Women in Mathematics

05 Jan, 2022
by Rachel Johnson
Women in Mathematics

As digitization accelerates at full speed, math is becoming increasingly important. Women in mathematics have been helping to shape the field since its beginning. However, they are not always rightly recognized. It’s high time to change this! F10 is presenting you the most inspiring female experts

Women in mathematics have always had to overcome challenges because of their sex. While the gender gap in the number of women who obtain a university degree has diminished, a 2016 study by the National Science Foundation found that less than half of degrees in mathematics and statistics are awarded to women.

Women in Mathematics

Women in mathematics often go unrecognized for their accomplishments, and the field continues to be dominated by men. A reason for this trend is “stereotype threat”: a phenomenon where one feels at risk of confirming their group’s negative stereotypes.

Countries with greater gender inequality tend to have lower numbers of women in mathematics because females feel more confined to perform a certain role and lose interest in STEM related fields early on.

Women in mathematics need to be celebrated, not only to give credit where credit is due, but to also encourage young girls to want to pursue careers in math. In a highly digitized world where algorithms dominate our everyday life, the importance of including the female perspective cannot be stressed enough.

"Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.“

Katherine Johnson, Mathematician and NASA Space Scientist

Documentary: Journeys of Women in Mathematics

Famous Women in Mathematics

There are a number of women in mathematics who have changed the field for the better:

Take the Egyptian mathematician Hypatia (370-415), for example. She is considered to be the first female math teacher and contributed the concepts of ellipses and parabolas.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), an English woman in mathematics, is seen as the world’s first computer programmer. Ada helped to better understand the computing machine and developed an algorithm to help calculate Bernoulli numbers.

Russian mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850-1891) was the first woman to get a doctorate in mathematics and the first in Europe to become a full-time professor. Sofya helped us to understand Saturn and its rings better through her discoveries in differential equations and elliptic integrals.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935), the woman behind Noether’s Theorem which links mathematics and physics through laws of nature and conservation, was a German mathematician who made incredible discoveries in theoretical physics and abstract algebra. While she went largely unrecognized during her lifetime, Noether’s Theorem has become a fundamental element of modern-day mathematical physics. Even Albert Einstein noted her brilliance and unselfish attitude towards her work in an obituary.

Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017) was a professor at Stanford University and one of the first Iranian women to qualify for the Mathematical Olympiad. She was also the first and only woman to ever win the esteemed Fields Medal, an award presented by the International Mathematical Union each year. Maryam’s contributions to mathematics include research into topics like theoretical mathematics, hyperbolic geometry, and ergodic theory. The academic world was shocked when she passed away at the young age of 40.

Valerie Thomas (1943-present) is an American mathematician, who invented the Illusion Transmitter (3D imaging technology seen in TV, video games, and movies) and helped NASA to receive the first satellite images from outer space.

Facts and Figures About Women in Mathematics

  • In 2015, just 31% of American PhD students in mathematics were women, and only 25% of postdoctoral positions went to women.
  • In the closely related field of computer science, only 18% of undergraduate degrees in the US were awarded to women in 2015. A figure that has significantly dropped since 1985 when 37% of degrees went to women.
  • A recent survey by the American Mathematical Society found that in doctoral math departments women only account for 19% of full-time faculty.
  • In 2017, female mathematical scientists made $10,000 USD less a year than their male counterparts ($70,000 compared to $81,000).

Let’s change these statistics and rethink the stereotypes surrounding women in mathematics.

"I like to think of mathematicians as forming a nation of our own without distinctions of geographical origin, race, creed, sex, age, or even time… all dedicated to the most beautiful of the arts and sciences."

Julia Robinson, American Mathematician

Video: Faces of Women in Mathematics

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