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Issues of equity and group differences are always front and center in sociology -- and that's certainly the case at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, which started Friday, in Montreal.

A number of scholars turned their attention inward, to academe, to examine trends in gender equity. Among the findings presented this weekend in Montreal: Overt gender discrimination is rapidly disappearing in faculty careers, but is being replaced by more subtle forms of bias; the decision to become increasingly specialized in research has some surprising impacts on the advancement of male and female faculty members; and participation in athletics may play a significant role in narrowing the gender achievement gap among high school students preparing for college.

Summaries of the findings follow:

Subtle Bias at a Research University: Courtesy of Lawrence H. Summers,  renewed attention has been focused on why women have more success starting careers as faculty members than rising to leadership roles. Two Rutgers University scholars -- Patricia A. Roos, a professor of sociology, and Mary L. Gatta, director of workforce development and research at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work -- conducted an in-depth study of faculty members in arts and sciences at a large state university. Their research combined examination of job progress, salaries and other quantifiable measures, along with interviews with faculty members.

Generally, they found that overt discrimination was disappearing -- but that its disappearance didn't necessarily translate into women rising to the top ranks at the college or in departments. The study found, for example, that departments routinely had smaller shares of women than could be found among younger members of their disciplines. In one-third of the departments, for example, the proportion of women was less than 60 percent of the proportion of women earning Ph.D.'s in the field. The research also found that men were significantly more likely to earn out-of-cycle increases in salaries (generally as a result of offers elsewhere). These and other changes translated into women earning less, on average, than did men.

In the interviews, the Rutgers sociologists found widespread perceptions of bias, much of it subtle, in decisions over raises, assignments, promotions to chair and key committees, offices and more. Women, Roos and Gatta found, "articulated feelings of invisibility and marginalization that grew worse as they moved into the tenure ranks."

Specialization and Visibility: Three sociologists at the University of Arizona presented a paper on the impact of specialization on the academic careers of men and women. Erin Leahy, Jason Crockett and Laura Hunter wrote that specialization should be considered a form of "professional capital" in that it would be likely to make professors more productive (they are working within the same general area) and better known (because of both output and expertise that can be well defined).

The trio of scholars followed the careers and publication records of a group of sociologists and linguists expecting to find that men benefit more than women do from specialization. In fact, they found that specialization had the most impact (for men and women) on productivity: the more specialized scholars are, the more papers they published. In terms of measures of visibility within a field -- a measure that could lead to promotion or job offers elsewhere -- the research found that women benefit more than men from specialization.

Athletics and Academic Achievement: Jennifer Todd, a graduate student in sociology at Cornell University, wanted to examine why high school girls are increasing their achievement in mathematics at a faster pace than are boys. She decided to look not just at comparisons of male and female students, but at athletes and non-athletes within each gender.

There has long been a "socialization" theory that the competitive nature of athletics helps boys in the competitive math and science fields. While acknowledging that many factors may be at play, Todd found that girls who are athletes are gaining in math and science at faster rates than are non-athletic girls.

But whatever benefit exists from athletic participation does not exist across the board. She found that black and Hispanic males seemed to suffer academically because of athletic participation.

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