The Obama Administration just announced their intention to take steps to increase the number of women in college science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. As the dad of three very smart daughter, I’m all for that. Their stated goal is to expand the use of Title IX, the 1972 law that was designed to increase the number of women in sports. (We can debate the success or failure of Title IX another time.) And the way they’re going to “even” the academic playing field is to limit the number of men allowed to enroll in STEM courses.
When I first heard about this, I thought it was a joke. We already have a huge shortage of people with the technical education and sills need to do 21st Century jobs. A recent article in Forbes estimated that by 2015, “76% of all U.S. jobs created will require highly skilled workers, for example people with special skills in science, technology, engineering or math.” The article also cites Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which that, “the demand for college educated workers will outpace the supply in the U.S. by more than 300,000 a year.” Technical jobs—by the tens of thousands—are being shipped to India and other countries where young people are flocking to STEM majors.
So in the midst of one of the worst recessions in American history and in an economy that is leaning more towards technology every day, the White House decides to penalize the entire country by limiting the number of men allowed to enroll in tech-related classes and majors.
One could, theoretically, argue that it’s all about equality. No problem there. But is this really going to produce equality? Just last month, Mr. Obama wrote a column on Title IX for Newsweek. He concluded with this. “In fact, more women as a whole now graduate from college than men. This is a great accomplishment—not just for one sport or one college or even just for women but for America. And this is what Title IX is all about”
Did anyone else catch that the fact that more women graduate from college than men is “a great accomplishment”? I understand the need for equality, but how does having one sex outperform the other quality as equal. Yes, women didn’t have equal educational opportunities. Back in 1972, when Title IX was first passed, women accounted for about 43 percent of college students. Okay, let’s do what we can to get that number up to 50 percent. Now the percentages are reversed and at least 57 percent of college students are women.
Why is it an outrage when men are the majority but cause for celebration when women are? Am I missing something? And no, the argument that “now it’s women’s turn to be in power” is just plain absurd. As a society we were wrong to have discouraged women from enrolling in college. Discriminating against men doesn’t make it right. Doing something to benefit one underserved group is great. But doing it at the expense of another group—and society as a whole—is not.
In a post on the openmarket.com blog, Hans Bader argues that, “Gender disparities in a major are not the product of sexism, but rather the differing preferences of men and women.” And he’s right. Bader cites the psychologist Susan Pinker, who writes that, “A mountain of published research stretching back a hundred years shows that women are far more likely than men to be deeply interested in organic subjects—people, plants and animals—than they are to be interested in things and inanimate systems, such as electrical engineering, or computer systems.”
Apparently, the fact that many women may not actually want to be involved in STEM—a fact that quite a bit of research backs up—is lost on Mr. Obama. Writing in the New York Times, journalist John Tierney, recently noted that, “Despite supposed obstacles like ‘unconscious bias’ and a shortage of role models and mentors, women now constitute about half of medical students, 60 percent of biology majors and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.’s. They earn the majority of doctorates in both the life sciences and the social sciences.”
Let’s look at this from the other side. Is the White House planning on pushing for quotas limiting the number of women who can enroll in biology, life- and social sciences, and medicine? Not likely. And will they go beyond college and institute quotas limiting the number of women who are allowed to work as nurses and elementary school teachers (two of many fields where the percentage of men is essentially a rounding error)? Of course not. A ceiling on the number of female nurses would cripple our ability to provide decent healthcare for all Americans. And a ceiling on the number of female teachers would effectively shut down our education system. Similarly, while a ceiling on the number of male scientists, techies, engineer, and mathematicians would increase the percentage (but probably not the sheer number) of women, it would cripple our already limping economy.
What we need is more people—men and women—to major in STEM. What we don’t need is any more social engineering from politicians who seem so interested in scoring pre-election political points that they’re actually willing to jeopardize the economic will-being of every American.