When everyone around you is exactly like you

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I was listening to a US left wing TV pundit last week accusing a group of political opponents of being racist using the line, “You look around and see everyone is exactly like you, and you don’t ask why?”

I’m male, white and from a middle class background and in general astronomers are just like me. Astronomers do spend quite a bit of time soul searching about why this is. However I’ve generally found this is mostly about the first two. Major astronomical meetings often have “Women in Astronomy” sessions and I’ve seen a fair bit of work especially by astronomers from ethnic minority backgrounds to try to and increase the racial diversity on the field.

Is this really a specific problem with astronomy? Or is it common in all academia? Is there something astronomy and fundamental research does to put off people from some socio-economic backgrounds? Stuart tells me that a lot of outreach work is done at schools in deprived areas, but how many of those kids would consider studying astronomy at university level? Perhaps the problem is not enough students from a working class background taking university level qualifications?

My method for estimating this so far has been asking around my friends to confirm my general impression. So for a larger, yet still unscientific survey I’ve produced a poll. So if you are an astronomer or have been an astronomy student, what was the social class of the household you grew up in? I’m basing it on the slightly out of date NRS social classes. This doesn’t cover the upper class so if you are from an aristocratic background just select A.

Please take the poll and feel free to use the discussion thread to comment on whether this is a problem and if so what could be done to remedy it.

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