Where Want Fewer Women?

My colleague Garett Jones mentioned he’d just written on how to get more women in economics, just after I’d noticed a recent Science article, "Igniting Girls’ Interest in Science."  Both of which raise the question:   Do those who want more women in science, economics, politics, etc. understand that more women in some places requires fewer women elsewhere?  If so, why don’t they tell us where exactly they want fewer women – and explain why the world is better with fewer women there?  Without this, they sound like people pushing more state education spending without saying whose taxes should be raised to pay for it. 

Sure, one could favor more skilled and productive women, which implies fewer women in lower skilled jobs.  But if this is the issue the question should be where can women be the most productive, not how to get more women in science.  And then why not listen to economists’ long-neglected advice on how most everyone could be more productive?

"Hey, I’m just saying …"

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  • burger flipper

    What’s the long neglected advice for everyone?

    It is interesting that so many people chafe at the notion of men and women being better at different things. I toiled in a call center once upon a time, and while the job was universally disliked, me and the other 4 or 5 heterosexual males there were not only the most miserable, we were the worst at it. We tended to view making payment arrangements as a confrontational contest, as opposed to a negotiation, and weren’t temperamentally suited to “fighting” with our hands tied all day long.

    Sent me scurrying back the the Frialator, pronto.

  • Ian C.

    The whole idea of X women here and X women there smacks of top-down communistic organization. In this country we let people choose their own life, statistics be damned.

  • anon

    I’d prefer more talented women to enter many scientific fields because positive externalities of research are unusually high, relative to occupations like law (women constitute a majority of law students).

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Anon, the externalities come from the role, not from the gender of the person who fills the role. And while some scientists and some lawyers produce positive externalities, most do not.

    Burger, lower marginal income tax rates (such as via taxing IQ, beauty and height), consumption over income taxes, less subsidy of home ownership, road congestion fees, etc.

  • http://www.iki.fi/aleksei Aleksei Riikonen

    Actually, there are positive externalities that come from the gender of women entering areas of study where they are particularly scarce: the male heterosexual nerds studying those fields become less miserable and thus more productive, as it becomes less difficult for them to find girlfriends.

    And to begin with, it isn’t at all required to specify a particular place X where the amount of women needs to go down, when calling for more women in some fields. I’d say that by default, the call is for women to move to science/etc evenly from everywhere that they currently are. So if you insist, you could interpret the X to be “everywhere else”.

  • http://protagoras.typepad.com Aaron Boyden

    I find this post unusually dense for this blog. It is usually for the best, all else being equal, for people to choose for themselves what to do, to seek out their own particular aptitudes. This mechanism has been frustrated with respect to women in many fields by various forms of sexism. I’d think it would be blazingly obvious that an effort to get more women into, say, the sciences, is an effort to counter-balance the impact of sexist distortions and bring things closer to the ideal. If this successfully produces a shift, whichever area it will leave less women is presumably wherever women were heretofore least enthusiastic about being (since the least enthusiastic about their current position would be the ones most easily shifted), and by the same principle that people should generally be where they find themselves best suited, shifting women out of wherever they felt least enthusiastic doesn’t sound like much of a negative side effect.

    No doubt there’s also an element of these efforts wanting there to be more people in general interested in economics/science/whatever, and doing the standard marketing thing of breaking down their efforts into strategies tailored for particular group. In this case, it is perhaps even more clear that those engaged in this don’t consider it a problem that they would have to be reducing the number of people not interested in economics/science/whatever.

  • anon

    Robin,

    The supply of highly talented people capable of filling the role well is limited, and we would benefit from getting more talented people to enter the role. Empirical studies of highly mathematically gifted youth (e.g. by Benbow) indicate that a higher proportion of female youth in that category go into medicine and law relative to science. Redirecting some of that talent could improve the average quality of researchers.

    This is not a case for preferring less effective female researchers for a limited number of research positions, but for spending on redirecting the talented up until the point where the marginal benefit of further such expenditure is exceeded by the benefit of some other option, e.g. creating more science positions.

  • Caledonian

    This mechanism has been frustrated with respect to women in many fields by various forms of sexism. I’d think it would be blazingly obvious that an effort to get more women into, say, the sciences, is an effort to counter-balance the impact of sexist distortions and bring things closer to the ideal.

    Oh, goodness, no. What a horrible idea.

    We should be working to increase access to the fields to people with the capacity and the interest to enter them – not trying to make reality match our ideas about what the end result should be. Actual, not ideal.

    Have you even considered the possibility that, even if all of the sexism were removed, there might not be an equal proportion of men and women in every given field?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Alexsai, so is the argument that society is better off with women in science than in every other place they could be?

    Aaron, as Caledonian indicates, the question is how much we know about the relation between illicit sexist barriers and the fraction of scientists that are female. We can all agree to oppose illicit sexist barriers, but it is far from clear that “Igniting Girls’ Interest in Science” reduces such barriers.

  • mathgeek

    anon:

    Why do mathematics and physics deserve women at the expense of medicine? Pulling women out of law/rent seeking would be a good thing, but medicine is probably not.

    If anything, we should pull people out of science (which is glutted as it is) and push them into medicine (note: I say this as a mathematician).

  • conchis

    Robin: “it is far from clear that “Igniting Girls’ Interest in Science” reduces such barriers.”

    Really? There’s a pretty decent, and well-rehearsed case that girls are discouraged from pursuing scientific (and other) careers by what are likely to be inefficient social norms. It is far from clear to me that this is false, but if you find the case unconvincing, then we would probably benefit from hearing your reasons.

    More generally, I don’t see the issue of where such girls need to come from as one that particular disciplines trying to attract people need to worry about. As has already been noted, if everyone markets like this, then things should tend to flow reasonably efficiently; and even if you don’t think the efforts are justified, they seem unlikely to do much harm.

    P.S. Caledonian: “Have you even considered the possibility that, even if all of the sexism were removed, there might not be an equal proportion of men and women in every given field?”

    Nice strawman.

  • Caledonian

    Nice strawman.

    It’s not a strawman at all – it is in fact the central issue of the debate. What precisely is the ‘ideal’ gender proportion in a field?

  • conchis

    Yes it is. And no it’s not, respectively.

    It’s perfectly possible to address things that you think are distorting current allocations without having any view as to the `ideal’ allocation whatsoever. The whole idea of market failure analysis is built on this foundation. Conversely the fact that someone wants to address perceived distortions is not evidence that they think the `ideal’ proportion is 50-50.

  • Henk

    “What precisely is the ‘ideal’ gender proportion in a field?”

    You don’t need to know precisely what the ideal gender proportion is to know that you’re going in the right direction.

    I’m enrolled in an undergraduate computer science degree, and judging from my classes about 1/30 of the students are female (one class I’m taking now has not a single female, as our teacher is always pointing out). I’ve heard much higher figures from other geographical areas though (as high as 25%), so while I’ve no idea what the ‘ideal’ ratio is, if there is one, but it’s pretty clear what direction will lead us that way.

  • Caledonian

    Conversely the fact that someone wants to address perceived distortions is not evidence that they think the `ideal’ proportion is 50-50.

    But citing the a current inequality as evidence that there’s a problem suggests that equality is what you think should be. Maybe you don’t – in which case the question becomes: What precisely IS the ‘ideal’ gender proportion in a field?

    55-45? 60-40? 80-20? How did you estimate the proportion, and how well can it be justified?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Conchis, I’d like to see a good presentation of the “well-rehearsed case that girls are discouraged from pursuing scientific (and other) careers by what are likely to be inefficient social norms.” I don’t doubt that there are social norms – the question is efficiency.

    Henk, you can’t both have “no idea what the ‘ideal’ ratio is” and also be sure that it is above 1/30.

  • conchis

    “But citing the a current inequality as evidence that there’s a problem suggests that equality is what you think should be.”

    No it doesn’t. And I’ve already told you why the question doesn’t become what you’ve just insisted it does again without bothering to argue why. If you’re not going to engage, I’m not going to bother responding.

  • Caledonian

    I’m going to make this as simple as I can.

    If you point at a gender disparity with women as a minority in various fields as evidence we have a serious problem with sexism against women, that requires that you think the ratio undistorted by sexism would result in more women being in those fields. If you say that it’s obvious where the ratio would shift to if sexism were removed, and imply it should shift to more women, that requires that you think women are being kept out.

    Those lines of argument require that we have a solid case for thinking qualified women are being discouraged from entering any particular field; further, we should care about that line of argument only if we think there is a decrease in utility resulting from that discouragement.

    Instead of trying to identify and eliminate specific prejudice against women, some people want to set the goal of establishing parity. Clearly they think that if they ameliorate the symptom, the underlying cause will be dealt with as well. As foolish as that is, they do something even more foolish: they presume that interested women are being pushed out, and they presume that there is a utility cost associated with qualified women going elsewhere.

    What loss of utility is a consequence of qualified women becoming doctors instead of scientists?

  • conchis

    Thank you for making things simple.

    “that requires that you think the ratio undistorted by sexism would result in more women being in those fields.”

    Agreed. But that doesn’t imply that you think it should be 50-50, which was the original claim that I objected to.

    “Those lines of argument require that we have a solid case for thinking qualified women are being discouraged from entering any particular field”

    I think this case is reasonably solid on independent grounds, though obviously not watertight. The burden of proof you require here will depend on the costs of any proposed action. As I indicated above, I tend to think these are not large, so I may accept a lower burden than you do.

    “Instead of trying to identify and eliminate specific prejudice against women, some people want to set the goal of establishing parity.”

    Nothing in the comment that you originally objected to suggests that Aaron is one of the latter (except perhaps the false notion that your two stated alternatives are collectively exhaustive). This is why I called your original comment a strawman.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Imagine that there were too many sharks near some beach, and as a result too few people used that beach. It would not therefore follow that we should encourage more people to use the beach. Similarly, even if women were being unfairly penalized for being scientists it would not follow that we should encourage more women to become scientists.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    the male heterosexual nerds studying those fields become less miserable and thus more productive
    James Watson disagrees.

  • conchis

    When people have been telling women that they’re crap at swimming and look ugly in bathing suits for years, and someone suggests that we should maybe instead tell them that they can be good at swimming and might enjoy it (and that they shouldn’t worry about the bathing suits ‘cos everybody looks stupid in them), I’m sceptical of people who suddenly start jumping up and down shouting “what about the sharks?”, and “but who’ll go to the mall?”.

    Which is not to say that those issues aren’t relevant, but I expect they’ll probably sort themselves out all right by themselves.

  • kc

    Robin Hanson!

    If so, why don’t they tell us where exactly they want fewer women

    They want fewer women choosing not to have a career (e.g., as “stay-at-home moms”) and fewer women in the “caring professions” AKA pink collar jobs of nursing, teaching, acting as counselors, au peres, housekeepers, etc.

  • Caledonian

    I think we can all agree that women should not be discouraged from entering scientific fields because they’re female, and that ceasing to actively discourage them would be a good in itself.

    But is there actually any benefit we can expect from actively encouraging more people (female or otherwise) to become scientists? Do we need more scientists? Is there a lack of qualified people to fill the positions? Does being female add something to one’s performance that men cannot substitute?

    Should we be urging anyone to enter science as a profession? Are there other positions that people would be equally qualified for and maybe more needed?

    I do not perceive any inherent benefit to having the numbers of women in science reach parity with men. And although I’m fairly certain women DO receive less than equal treatment in the sciences, it is not obvious to me that the gender disparity proceeds from this, or that we can use the disparity to judge the level of remaining discrimination. I suspect a lot of people want there to be more women in science because, in their minds, forcing the symptom to go away means the underlying cause is eliminated. It’s a persistent cognitive bias, which is one of the things this blog is supposed to address.

  • Grant

    My experience with computer engineering courses mirrors Henk’s: About 1/30 students is female.

    Contrary to the other posters however, I don’t feel females are discouraged from becoming computer engineers: quite the opposite. In my experience, females (especially attractive ones) in computer courses are given disproportionate amounts of aid by TAs (and to a lesser extent, professors) compared to their male counterparts. It is also far easier for them to get help from male students, and I believe they generally receive much more encouragement than men. A similar thing seems to happen with females in traditionally male-dominated sports (e.g., Danica Patrick): they receive more press and sponsorship than their equally-capable male counterparts.

    I personally have not encountered any social norms which would discourage females from becoming computer engineers, but as an engineer myself, I don’t really notice those sorts of things. I’d imagine such norms are supposedly present in female culture? I don’t think they are present in the culture of male computer engineers. I think most male engineers would rather be with a woman they can have an intelligent conversation with, instead of discussing the latest sale as Macy’s.

    Of course, I believe there is a stigma against women who succeed in engineering just because they are women, and not on their merits. But I think this stigma is applicable to both genders and many professions.

    I think the cause is simply that women don’t want to become computer engineers. This might be due genetics and how they are raised (i.e., with Barbie Dolls instead of LEGOs), but I don’t think it means that we’d be better off with those women choosing career paths they dislike.

  • Nick Tarleton

    females (especially attractive ones) in computer courses are given disproportionate amounts of aid by TAs (and to a lesser extent, professors) compared to their male counterparts.

    I don’t think many women want disproportionate attention due to their gender.

  • Maksym Taran

    I can’t remember where I saw this article initially (it may have even been on OB), but this is one of the most informative writings on the subject I’ve seen. It shows that there is little consensus on the topic in scientific circles, but that this hasn’t prevented the government and various agencies from shouting “sexism” and attempting to fight it with misplaced funds.

    Really a great read.

  • http://whatisthought.com Eric Baum

    One could rationally believe that females have a different perspective, and on average different mental strengths, than males. Stipulating that, it might be a mistake to insist on 50-50 in any given area, but highly rational to want more females in certain fields because of the advantages of introducing new perspectives. They might introduce different and new ideas.

  • Wendy Collings

    “tell us where exactly they want fewer women – and explain why the world is better with fewer women there”

    1. Fewer women, more men, in teaching – providing more male role models for boys.

    When most teachers are women and most single parents are mothers, boys often lack any decent role models in their lives, and make do with media representations of sports heroes and the like; a poor substitute for real men in daily life.

    2. Fewer women, more men, in home parenting – allowing men to choose more family life and less work stress.

    Men are lately very vocal about being the losers in child custody battles. They want, and deserve, equal consideration as capable caregivers for their children. Encouraging more women to take up useful careers will help tip the balance in favour of fathers.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Wendy, you have met the request. So presumably you’d want similar effort into “Igniting men’s interest in teaching and parenting.” And also “Igniting women’s interest in men who teach and parent” as well as “Igniting men’s interest in female scientists” (such as Gwyneth Paltrow as the hot math geek in Proof.)

  • Wendy Collings

    Absolutely, Robin. Also other measures where needed, such as school-based strategies for making teaching safer for men. (A major reason for the decline in numbers of male teachers is the perceived risk of being accused of child-molesting; even when the actual risk is low, and even if all bogus accusation were successfully challenged, the high cost of being under suspicion is a powerful deterrent to young men considering teaching as a profession.)

    And yes, changing women’s attitudes about men’s roles in teaching and parenting well deserves attention. (Many women hold absurd prejudices in this area; such as one I met recently who indignantly complained that her ex-husband and son spent their one-day-per-week together sitting in a dim room, each playing their favourite computer games. Judging by her own standards, she could only see the negative aspects – lack of communication and social interaction, lack of exercise – and completely disregarded how reassuring it is for her son to simply spend time with someone who likes exactly the same things he does.)

    I’ve seen positive discrimination used successfully in many areas; in matters of gender bias, or in ethnic inequalities in life expectancy, educational achievement, etc. Sometimes it involves removing obstacles, sometimes changing attitudes or customs, sometimes just advertising for growing awareness. Change usually starts slowly, gathers momentum, and eventually settles into a new stability.

    Stable gender splits will never be 50/50 in all professions; men and women tend to be interested in, and/or better at, different things (though it’s only a statistical tendency, not an absolute measure). But in many areas we’re still in progress from historically poor balances to more satisfying ones for both sexes.

    We’re all likely to benefit if we encourage more women into the sciences, and more men into teaching and parenting. So yes, I wholly support doing both.

  • Paul Gowder

    Oy.

    Here’s a way to think about the issue that might bear some fruit. Imagine four propositions:

    1. Women and men have equal opportunity to enter the sciences.

    2. Women and men would, in a world where there were equal opportunity (which may or may not be this world, depending on the truth of proposition 1), have equal desire to enter the sciences.

    3. Women and men would, in a world subject to the conditions described in proposition 2), have equal ability in the sciences.

    4. If 1, 2, and 3 are true, we can expect there to be a roughly equal number of men and women in the sciences.

    If you accept 2, 3, and 4, then when you observe a disparity of men and women in the sciences, you have to conclude that 1 is false. And this, I think, is what motivates the claim that there ought to be more women in the sciences: it’s really a claim that there ought to be more opportunity for women to enter the sciences, i.e. that we ought to treat women as equal. It’s stated as a claim that there ought to be more women in the sciences, because we believe that the others are true, and thus that the best evidence for equal opportunity would in fact be equal outcomes.

    Of course, you can deny 2, but then you have to give some kind of evidence about female interest in the sciences that isn’t endogenous to, e.g., girls being discouraged from math and science. Or you can deny 3, but you have the same problem. No such evidence being forthcoming in either case, well… I suppose you could deny 4, but what are you left with then? Luck?

    So, contra Caledonian, I do think that the absence of equal outcomes and equal representation is in many cases evidence of absence of equal opportunities. At least, the denial of 1 is at least as plausible as the denial of 2, 3, or 4 — and, given the history of sexism in this society and the fact that women do report being discouraged in science in a regular basis, actually rather more plausible.

  • http://www.iki.fi/aleksei Aleksei Riikonen

    “Alexsai, so is the argument that society is better off with women in science than in every other place they could be?”

    Every other place where the amount of women is not at least as unreasonably low. This of course does not mean moving so many women to science that the move creates more severe similar problems elsewhere.

  • Caledonian

    you can deny 2, but then you have to give some kind of evidence about female interest in the sciences that isn’t endogenous to, e.g., girls being discouraged from math and science. Or you can deny 3, but you have the same problem. No such evidence being forthcoming in either case, well…

    It’s that last phrase, I think, that demonstrates the wide gulf separating the two biggest positions on this matter.

  • Paul Gowder

    Caledonian, I think the real wide gulf is in the “that isn’t endogenous” part.

    We can directly observe girls and women being discouraged.

    We can also directly observe interest differences.

    But there’s a good reason to think the first causes the second (when people are systematically discouraged from X, they tend to display less interest [and, following that, less trained ability] in X).

    Ergo, we have more reason to believe in the first than we have to believe in the second, independent of the first.

  • Laura

    This has devolved into such a theoretical debate! I’d like to say that, in my own personal experience as a woman in science, I have noticed these gender pressures since I was a little girl. When I was in elementary school, for instance, barbie dolls said things like “math is hard” and “I love shopping.” Throughout high school, the most popular girls acted stupid because they (and apparently boys as well) thought it was cute.

    I don’t see this particular ditzy-is-attractive model presented for boys.

    So yes, perhaps girls are encouraged in the sciences once they reach the university level (although, is getting so much attention from male students and TAs necessarily encouraging?), but that doesn’t mean sexism is totally out of the picture. For instance, I had a female friend in a research lab who was told by her professor that she was too “pretty” to be taken seriously, and that she shouldn’t look so nice when presenting at conferences. Something is wrong here!

    As an illustration, my friend from India tells me that his computer science classes were about 50-50 girls and guys. Obviously a small sample, but then again I’ve never heard of that in the US. Something is going on socially/culturally that is accounting for this difference.

    So please stop speculating on women’s innate abilities or lack thereof. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it’s most productive (and really most fair) to assume equal capabilities in both genders, especially considering for how many hundreds of years women have been told that they’re inherently inferior.

    Thanks.

  • http://physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=76937 Alejandro Rivero

    what about fewer women in supermarket cashiers, cleaning services, phone call services, pub bar waiters, etc?

  • Laura ABJ

    Oh, I’m also a Laura!

    Will need to go by Laura AB] now…
    I am also a woman in science who has noticed discrimination. Asking about lab rotations, I was told by my PhD adviser that three of my candidates “would not take women.” It’s possible that there is a lower bar for women to get into these programs because less apply, but to prima fascia reject them at a prestigious research university is concerning…

  • Laura ABJ

    BTW, who are the women that read this blog????

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    I am in agreement with Wendy and in sympathy with Laura.

    I do not think that one needs to declare that all professions must be 50/50 or even specify what would be an ideal balance in order to still make efforts to offset extreme imbalances in both directions, thus encouraging more women to be engineers and more men to be elementary school teachers.

    One problem here, not mentioned by anybody, although I think hinted at by Laura, and curiously by the male commenter earlier talking about his experience in a call center, is the social pressures that can occur when there is an extreme imbalance. Now, we have seen some claims of women getting lots of help in certain classes. But, and I am an old fart, I have personally known women who were the first of their gender to be hired in an academic department who felt seriously alienated and misunderstood and discriminated against, even when all the men in same department thought that everything was just hunky-dory and that they were just all great and wonderful, thank you. There is this problem of the externality of having someone else like you in the place.

    I will also recount the experience of a daughter of mine. She was majoring in chemistry at Harvard as an undergrad. She was working as a research assistant in a lab. She was sexually harassed. This led her to quit pursuing chemistry and to make that move to pre-med, and she is now a successful shrink working with PTSD vets at the VA hospital. Maybe this is socially superior, but she was basically driven out of that lab because there was no support for her (I realize that sexual harassment happens in gender balanced institutions also, but it is a lot more likely and common in ones that are badly unbalanced).

    So, I would say that there is some reason for some kinds of efforts to encourage people to try out professions that have few of their gender in them.

  • Grant

    I think an important distinction to make is the institutions where discrimination is taking place in. I (stupidly) forgot that the subject matter was science, and so the hiring is taking place in state or heavily subsidized institutions. I think that is probably going to be a lot different than working in a business with a more threatening bottom line. For this reason, I think science is going to differ greatly from engineering.

    It seems to me that many universities lack some of the traditional market incentives to hire the best employees they can get a hold of. I cannot imagine any successful entrepreneur allowing valuable employees to be chased off by the sort of sexism Barkley mentions.

    Interestingly, about 25% of the responses to a job add I’ve put out looking for Java programmers have been responded to by women, all of whom appear to have been born outside the US.

    My question is, what value do we place on allowing people to discriminate? We don’t usually think of discrimination as being a ‘good’ thing, but its clearly very valuable for some people to be able to work and socialize with people they have things in common with. Might this sort of thing lead to Pareto-optimal discrimination? In computer engineering, I think a good balance has formed between lower-cost outsourcing and culture-based discrimination (it is hard to work with someone of a totally different culture from your own). Are we irrationally biased against discrimination?

  • Bob

    Barkley raises an interesting question about how difficult it might be for an old fart and even, perhaps, a young male to evaluate this question because we don’t have even anecdotal direct knowledge of a woman’s preferences. I agree with Robin that we should generally resist a knee-jerk impulse to force change. But should we defer to Wendy’s position that this “market” isn’t in equilibrium?

    A related question: those who believe change is good on this issue, do you support single sex education?

  • Paul Gowder

    Grant: We can believe that one problem (of many) with placing value on allowing people to discriminate is that our comfort level with people we have things in common with is also endogenous. Put without social-science jargon, if you hang out with dissimilar people long enough, they stop looking dissimilar. That’s a debatable position, but a lot of very smart people believe it…

  • Caledonian

    In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it’s most productive (and really most fair) to assume equal capabilities in both genders

    We have lots of evidence to the contrary. We also have lots of evidence showing that men and women tend to have different interests – whether this difference is innate or the result of socialization is irrelevant.

  • Paul Gowder

    Caledonian:

    No, it’s not irrelevant. It’s precisely what IS relevant. Because if women and men are socialized to have different interests, and that socialization results in worse outcomes for women than for men (i.e. women in lower-paid and less prestigious jobs) then an injustice has been done. And we ought to remedy it.

  • Grant

    Paul, I don’t think thats necessarily true. If our culture results in women not even wanting high-paying and more prestigious jobs, is that a bad thing? How much of that is genetics, and not culture? Can we tell the difference?

    People already hang out with dissimilar people, since thats virtually required in order to realize gains from trade. I’d like someone to show me why it would be beneficial for more of this to occur, and what the optimal amount of cultural diversity is.

    I also don’t think its totally clear that our culture results in worse outcomes for women than men. It certainly resulted in worse outcomes for career-oriented women (which was, and seemingly still is in some fields, an injustice), but certainly did not for women who wanted to be homemakers. Sure it gave men the edge in the workplace, but not in the home, where it is still considered weird for men to focus on raising a family.

    I’m very skeptical that it is possible to arrive at any sort of conclusion on this issue. For one, its nigh-impossible to valuate the effects of good parenting, or to judge parenting at all, which you need to do if your talking about subsidizing women that move out of the home and into the workplace. If someone found a good way to measure it, I’d bet a good amount of money that women are genetically better parents than men.

  • Laura

    I really don’t think that the main point is social utility, or what proportion of women would enter the sciences, or whether it would benefit women at large — the point is to try and remove barriers to science-minded female individuals entering scientific fields.

    All these other speculations — about genetics, the economic effects of discrimination, etc — seem irrelevant to me. There are still stereotypes and social norms that are acting to prevent some women from entering science, and we should be proactive about continuing to combat these forces.

    It was only 2 generations ago that women were only considered fit in auxiliary roles, as secretaries and nurses, and too weak-minded for real responsibility. I think it’s undeniable that some of this attitude still remains after such a short time. This means that individual women are not as free to consider all options for achieving self-actualization, are more limited in picking the career/discipline that would most fulfill them.

    You can say that women are generally not as well-suited for the sciences as men, or that women in general are inherently less interested in it. I would disagree with you and find it insulting, but you can say it. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still important to make science as open to women as possible, just so that those women who ARE scientifically inclined are not discouraged from entering a field where she could be happy and make important contributions.

    I think a program aimed at encouraging young girls to embrace their scientific sides is a wonderful idea.

  • Michael S

    Re: Grant’s comment,
    “it is still considered weird for men to focus on raising a family.”

    As a man who was a stay-at-home father, I would say yes, it is considered unusual for a man to be the primary caregiver, but not at all “weird” (which implies a very negative assessment). I was frequently stopped on the street to be complimented, told how wonderful I was to be taking care of my children. Can you even imagine a mother receiving such praise for simply doing her job? There really is no sense in which a man’s being praised for loving his kids can represent an equivalent social stigma with a woman being ridiculed for displaying interest/aptitude for “unfeminine” pursuits.

    Just the tuppence of another “old fart.”

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Another argument that more should be done to support and encourage women going into science and engineering is that there certainly has been a history of serious discrimination against them, even when they get in. Some here might argue that everything is better now, and we are so enlightened, blah blah, but I shall simply point out the scandalous case of the mistreatment of Rosalind Franklin in regard to the assignment of credit for the discovery of the double helix model of DNA. She was basically robbed of credit, with the Nobel being given to Crick, Watson, and Wilkins.

  • Nick Tarleton

    She was basically robbed of credit, with the Nobel being given to Crick, Watson, and Wilkins.

    There’s also the fact that she was four years dead when their Nobel was awarded, not that it affects your general point.

  • Grant

    Michael, women are also often praised for taking roles previously taken by men. A friend of mine was just in a mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament with two female fighters who were praised (sincerely? I have no idea) by the announcer for doing just that. Maybe I’m too young to have noticed, but I’ve never seen a woman ridiculed for it in the business world. I have heard remarks against policies of forced diversity, but nothing against women of equal qualifications. I think there are general feelings of resentment towards anyone who gets hired on the basis of diversity policies, which can lead to general skepticism of qualifications of women and minorities.

    The biggest complaint I’ve heard concerning hiring women (and I’m surprised no one mentioned it) is pregnancy. Employers loathe to hire someone valuable who, on short notice, might become unavailable for an entire year and possibly collect maternity pay. If the woman is in a key position, this can naturally be a big problem for the business.

    Although I suppose none of this may be relevant to the sciences. The institution of tenure makes me wonder if logic enters into academia’s hiring practices at all 😉

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Nick T.,

    Good point. I had forgotten that Franklin died early.
    I just googled her, and she was treated very badly in various
    ways. One sign of this is that at a certain point she was
    actually forced to not work on the DNA project. Ack! I will
    grant that things are much improved since then, however, if
    not completely so.

  • savagehenry

    “I don’t think many women want disproportionate attention due to their gender.”
    Posted by: Nick Tarleton

    You obviously don’t know much about women do you lol?

    My question is, practically speaking what can be done about the gender disparity in science fields? I’m gonna go ahead and venture a guess here and say that whatever “outreach” programs and efforts that are in place are failing miserably. I’m a college student majoring in computer science and I can confirm the 1/30 ratio mentioned above. My school has at least one female engineer club/group/whatever and I know they make attempts to get high school girls and undeclared freshmen girls into engineering. Clearly it’s not working.

    I’ve spoken with my girlfriend’s mother about this, she was a math/computer science major back in the early 70s and she said the ratio of men to women in her classes was no worse than what it is in mine (2-3 girls in a class of 30-60). Granted that’s purely anecdotal, but I kind of found this surprising. My whole life in school I’ve been told girls can do whatever boys can do. I don’t think girls my age didn’t get this memo as well. I fully expect discouragement among women older than me, especially from my parents generation or older, because they were born in a time were the concept of women being able to do the things men do was genuinely a new concept to pretty much everyone. That nothing seems to have changed (in engineering and science, much has changed elsewhere) makes me wonder what’s happening. Girls today probably do face sexism and discouragement when it comes to science and math, but given the sheer amount of political correctness my generation has grown up with I find it hard to believe its effects are nearly as great as it used to be.

  • Apollo

    What a load of rubbish! Today’s universities are spewing with anti-male feminazi horse radish! Political correctness is the child of feminazism, trying to remove all the innate differences in the sexes and differences in the races. Sure there’s exceptions, but who’s been the real *innovators* in all walks of life? men, men, and more men! Women aren’t that independently minded or critically thoughtful, they’re credulous and orthodox, they don’t argue with professors, they *please* them! Women prefer *social harmony* and emotional satisfaction, not the pursuit of truth or wisdom! Not to mention the anti-male affirmitive action in employment, “affirmitive action” = anti-male, anti-white male. Remember University of Delaware? Forcing everyone to accept “all white males are racist”? Or whatever it was. How about the Duke Scandal? “all males are rapists”? Political correctness has ruined everything true about the world, it has sacrificed wisdom for social harmony and comforting egos. The real statistics show something entirely different, boys are more likely to drop out, fail, pushed back years, commit suicide, ESPECIALLY commit suicide! etc… I’ve even heard of virulent anti-male bashing in schools! http://www.rense.com/general81/vdt.htm

    The modern education and law system is intentionally designed to turn males and boys into *demoralized criminals*

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Apollo,

    Marie Curie. Ah, but she was the exception who proved the rule, right?

  • Max

    Not only is the question “Where Do We Want Fewer Women?”, but also “Where Do We Want More Men?”. If we transfer a female from a position in X to one in computer science/engineering, then, to fill the vacancy, we need to tranfer a male from a position in computer sc/eng to one in X.

  • themusicgod1

    While today I might have a different answer, my answer at the time would be “In front of the TV”. 100s of lifetimes have been spilled on TV dramas like “The OC”, disproportionately women’s. That’s a start, anyway.