Did anyone else notice that there were a lot of women in this past week’s election? I counted 27 male and 20 female candidates on the ballot. 27/20 is a ratio of 1.35, which is much better than the 2.02 ratio indicated by this year’s fall term enrollment. Among the winners, it is even better, with the new ASCIT BoD sporting a 3/6 ratio (that’s 3 men and 6 women!). Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, I’ve been involved in student government for a long time at Caltech, and besides the cheerleading squad, there’s no better place to meet women.
But seriously, is this just a fluke or is the ratio really better in the student government? Well, the current BoD has 5 men and 4 women, the BoD before that had 6 men and 3 women, and the BoD before that had 4 men and 5 women. My memory doesn’t go back further than that, but we might be on to something. How do we know for sure? I think we learned it in Ma2a – Hypothesis Testing!
So I tested the Hypothesis: The male/female ratio in the student government is better than the ratio in the student body at large. I performed a paired t-test using the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body and the percentage of women in the student government each year. I defined the student government as the offices listed in the little t under “Student Government.” Unfortunately, there’s no data for the sex of students listed in the little t, but I made guesses based on first names. That introduces some error, but it should still be an unbiased estimator. The registrar had the historical percentages of women in the undergraduate student body.
Women first enrolled at Caltech in the fall of 1970, so the first women could run for office in the spring of 1971. Unfortunately, there are a few years when the little t didn’t come out, but the ASCIT archive has 29 volumes from 1971 to 2002. For each little t, I wrote down all the student government officers and when I could, I guessed the sex of the student by considering the first name. The percentage of females in student government each year was defined as the number of females identified divided by the number of total officers for which a sex was identified. The test statistic will be the percentage of identified females minus the percentage of females in the entire student body.
My first observation is that there isn’t a clear trend through time; women have been getting involved at high rates since they first arrived on campus. In fact, the first female ASCIT President was Liz McCleod, who was elected in 1974. The first House President was Deanna Hunt of Blacker, elected in 1975. They were members of the 2nd and 3rd classes, respectively, ever to include women.
Now, back to the hypothesis test. Considering all the data, the mean of the test statistic was 4.40% with a standard deviation of 0.83%. With 30 degrees of freedom, this gave a t-statistic of 5.31. The null hypothesis was rejected with 99.99% confidence. This means that on average, the percentage of women in student government is 4.4% higher than the percentage of women in the student body, and the test concludes that yes, the male/female ratio is better in the student government.
But there were more interesting questions. Is female participation the same in House offices and school-level offices? For school-level offices, the mean was 7.15% while for House offices, the mean was only 2.41%. These are statistically different with 99.99% confidence. So although women participate in student government at a higher rate than expected, they tend to choose school-level offices over House offices.
Seeing that result, I wondered if particular Houses are dragging things down or if this was a problem across all the Houses. Investigating this question, I found that Blacker (6.09%), Dabney (4.15%), and Ruddock (5.82%) can reject the null with 95% confidence. Lloyd (3.18%) and Ricketts (3.63%) also exhibit higher rates of women, but Fleming (-0.24%) and Page (-2.91%) actually have had smaller numbers of women in office than the overall ratio would predict, although none of those results are statistically significant.
As a last test, I considered a few different committees in the student government. The ASCIT BoD, where we started, had 6.46% more females, which rejects the null with 99% confidence. The Board of Control had 2.61% more females, which is not statistically significant. One result stands out though, and that is the IHC, which had a statistic of -6.94%, which means that the IHC has had fewer females than the ratio would expect with 99% confidence. Out of all the categories I considered, the IHC was the only subset that shows a statistically significant result in favor of males. Apparently, in Caltech student government, the glass ceiling is right below a House Presidency.