Milo: Here’s Why There Ought to Be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths


Women drop out of science and maths in alarming numbers, not because there are sinister and mysterious patriarchal forces at play, but because they either can’t cut it in highly competitive environments or they simply change their minds about what they want from life.

If you don’t believe me, listen to feminist academic Dr Emily Grossman, who last week appeared to suggest, in support of controversial comments made by Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, that women need special treatment because they’re fragile, delicate wallflowers who cry a lot. Her argument, not mine!

Even women who graduate with good degrees in science subjects often don’t use them: they switch careers in their twenties, abandoning the hard sciences. In some cases, they simply drop out of the workforce altogether. This is a disaster for the men who missed out on places, and it’s a criminal waste of public funds.

That’s why I think there ought to be a cap on the number of women enrolling in the sciences, maths, philosophy, engineering… and perhaps medicine and the law, too. It’s hugely expensive to train a doctor, but women have something like a third of the career of a man in medicine, despite having equal access to Harvard Med. Women make up the majority of medical students.

Competition for places at the best colleges is ferocious, especially in these highly competitive subjects. As Grossman admits, women don’t cope well in competitive environments, so even if they get onto the courses, they often drop out when one day a book like this lands on their desk, or when their grades start slipping.

To be fair, plenty of boys drop out at that point as well. But while attrition is terrible across STEM subjects – 48 per cent of bachelor’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 left – for women the figure is even higher. Ladies, apparently, find the aggressively competitive nature of these subjects too “uninviting,” so they drop out. They also, according to a White House report, say the classes are too hard.

Sadly, we’re not going to get to Mars or crack commercial nuclear fusion in a nice touchy-feely environment where no one speaks out of turn and everyone’s, like, really supportive and kind and no one has to spend long nights with scary textbooks hopped up on Adderall, Mountain Dew and Doritos. You see, science is about results.

If, as Dr. Grossman seems to be suggesting, segregated labs would be better for women who grizzle at the first sign of disagreement, there’s no reason not to extend that segregation down to school level as well and simply have a set percentage of places set aside for girls and teach them separately.

But, to do that, we would have to start being honest about the number of women who actually want to grow up to be dorks: it’s small. And it gets even smaller in supposedly more “equal” societies: in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where women are routinely oppressed and abused, the gender split in science is 50-50 in a lot of courses.

In Norway and Sweden, some of the most progressive, female-friendly places in the world, the number of women studying maths and science collapses to single figures. What this tells us is that, given every opportunity to choose, women stubbornly refuse to study the subjects feminists would like them to.

So by rights that cap on female places should – if we’re feeling optimistic – be set at between 5 and 10 per cent. Any higher and we’re giving in to ideology and social engineering, rather than looking at what the numbers say and respecting women’s choices.

I’m not sure how I feel about segregation, personally. But I’m intrigued by the idea of shuffling girls off separately and seeing what the sisterly, communitarian approach to learning Grossman describes would produce, versus a lab of obsessive, relentlessly hyper-competitive boys.

That idyll of matriarchal supportiveness, friendly sharing and leaderboard-free love doesn’t, incidentally, concord with my experience of what women are like when they work together. There’s more back-stabbing than basket-weaving, as any bloke who has been caught in the crossfire can tell you. But I digress.

Female attrition in STEM subjects has nothing to do with the “messages we send young girls” about what they could be when they grow up, nor about trumped-up supposed sexism in the workplace. “Girls in tech” advocates are wholly misguided if they think that bullying young girls into science courses will have any effect on the overall number of women in the workplace.

Let’s remember that, for those few women who do choose to go into science, there’s no such thing as a glass ceiling any more. It’s more like a crystal escalator: women are far more likely, all else being equal, than men to get jobs in STEM subjects these days.

Study after study confirms that men with the same qualifications are routinely passed over in favour of girls, at a ratio of 2:1, because employers of every stripe are so desperate to trumpet their diversity credentials. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

It’s worth remembering too that feminists deliberately define science as narrowly as possible, excluding subjects like clinical psychology, which are almost entirely female. They do this to make it look like the sciences are disproportionately male, when the truth is that only some science subjects are. Other subjects, like veterinary medicine, barely attract any men at all.

Feminists seem to think that if you’re not in particle physics or building a photo-sharing app in San Francisco, you don’t count. Bit sexist? You be the judge.

If you’re wondering how all this might have happened, by the way, the answer is simple. Journalists, activists and politicians take their cues on this stuff from psychology, sociology and anthropology research. It just so happens that women vastly outnumber men in all three disciplines. In other words, the people studying our culture and recommending changes are all women.

We tend not to hear calls for equality in the social sciences to #changetheratio, even though the conclusions these PhD students and professors draw can be very influential. They’re responsible, for example, for persistent myths like the gender pay gap and moral panics about campus rape culture.

This extends to other sorts of jobs. We only complain when women, gays or ethnic minorities are outnumbered, even when there is no sound basis for an arbitrarily even gender divide. It is a source of constant vexation to me personally that there aren’t more heterosexual males on fragrance counters, for instance.

The fact is, there is simply no evidence than “lingering stereotypes” cause women to drop out of hard subjects, or not apply for them in the first place. Especially now every young girl is bored to death in school by finger-wagging from geeks flown in to make science appear sexy.

And there’s good reason to suppose that, by instituting a gender-based cap, we can make competition for female places on STEM courses more fierce, and thus arrest the tide of attrition and the waste of public money. Something to think about, anyway.


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