Intended Consequences

I work in technology. And for the past decade or so, the tech industries and the educational-industrial complex have been fairly begging women to go into “STEM” – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”. Which is a fine and dandy thing – I work with a lot of exceptional engineers who happen to be women, and it’s not actually a new thing; it’s been true my entire career.

But the appeal has been getting louder, stronger, more strident lately. And I had an idea why.

Turns out I was only half right.

For thirty years now, the education system from kindergarten through the university system has been becoming more and more remorselessly feminized. Boyhood traits – physical play, roughhousing, restless energy – were stigmatized, pathologized and medicated. Being a boy – a young man – was, to the educational-industrial complex that sprang up over the past generation, something to be overcome.

It became, in the parlance of corporate human recourses, a hostile environment.

And as Christine Hoff Summers predicted in The War On Boys, a major result has been higher education becoming largely a female preserve. Currently, about 60% of post-secondary degrees go to women – up from under half forty years ago. Hoff Summers has data predicting it’ll level out around 66% sometime here. That’s two-thirds of all higher education.

“Is this a good thing” is one question – distorting higher ed by making it a hostile environment for one sex is a bad thing – but that’s not the real discussion here.

There’s been an interesting shift as a result of this distortion. Check out this graph, of percentages of bachelors degrees going to women, by year and by degree, over the past five decades:

While the percentage of women in engineering and hard sciences crept slowly up over the past nearly-fifty years – from just about nil in the case of engineering – the share of women in computer science programs actually peaked when I was in college (don’t I know it), has been eroding ever since, and seems to have plunged in the early 2000s. The velocity of the up-curve in engineering slowed around that time, and the percentage of physical science degrees peaked around the same time and is broadly down ever since.

I have absolutely no empirical, objective idea why. But I have a couple of theories.

Solid Ground – if you want to start a fight with a “woke” person with a background in soft science but who is nonetheless an expert at sciencing because they think Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the dreamiest sciencer ever, tell ’em there are innate differences between the sexes. But there is actual scientific evidence that a predisposition toward some traits that are well-suited to sciences – three-dimensional spatial visualization, single-track analytical affect and some others – tend to be associated with males (in a bell-curve distribution with exceptions all over the place, like most human traits).

As a result – my theory, here – young men fled the soft sciences, and especially the humanities (which were in the midst of being taken over by even loonier theorists than had run their high schools), as an alternative to four years of ritual self-abnegation for grades. Young men gravitated toward fields that didn’t innately hate them. Which may have both swelled the numbers of degrees going to males and lowered the proportion of women in the field.

Which, tangentially, is why I suspect gender theorists and “woke” administrators are trying to sqeedge gender theory into, and logic out of, engineering programs.

But I think its also…

Built On Sand – Thirty to forty years ago, before the compete feminization of the academy and the education profession, someone in school – male or female – with an interest in science, learned their math and science from people who taught, well, math and science. To both young men and women.

And that as that focus switched from teaching discplines (and discipline) to teaching ephemeral feelings and lessons in the new social rules, they became less capable of nurturing the STEM-oriented traits of young women who might have been interested in the field. Meaning fewer attempted it.

Since the public schools began their terminal dive into PC twaddle about twenty years ago, I’m going to call it a solid correlation.

20 thoughts on “Intended Consequences

  1. In 30 years of automation and controls engineering, I’ve worked with less than 10 women engineers, and I have not detected an influx recently. I remember 1 girl in my tech school classes, and zero when I transferred to college.

    Back in my FSI days, I met quite a few women working as engineers in the semi-conductor wafer FAB’s in Arizona, Texas, Oregon and Cali US (don’t remember a single one in the Pacific rim), but most of them had physics or math backgrounds doing process engineering. I don’t recall meeting any who were involved in circuit (electrical) or package (mechanical) design.

    I’ve met a lot of women that are way smarter than me (not hard, admittedly), so it’s not a matter of intelligence. I just don’t think women like engineering; I bet MP has met a *lot* of female astronomers though.

    All that being said, I fear a real brain drain for both sexes (there are only two, D_K). And that is especially true for Negro and other swarthy minorities. Look at that graph. Three of the top 4 fields women are studying are not science related (Psychiatry/psychology has always been witch doctory, imo. And today it’s filled with people that are nuttier than the patients).

    I would bet if we had a graph of what minority students are studying you’d find a lot of low ACT scoring poli-sci majors with “studies” minors going to school on diversity grants. They’re preparing themselves for a lucrative career in graft.

    If I were advising a college bound student today, I’d recommend they major in Chinese.

  2. And that as that focus switched from teaching discplines (and discipline) to teaching ephemeral feelings and lessons in the new social rules, they became less capable of nurturing the STEM-oriented traits of young women who might have been interested in the field.

    Pretty effing perceptive theory there. Mitch. Makes sense. Nice job.

  3. There are a lot of female astronomers. There is some bleed out of both male & female astronomers after grad school. The supply of people with newly minted PhD’s in astrophysics exceeds the demand for research fellows. There is an issue that is unmentionable, and that is that more female than male PhD’s give up career track positions to start a family.
    We have a lot of software people. I would guess our CS hires run about 4:1 male:female. I have noticed no difference in the skill levels between male and female coders, they are all crazy good. For some reason, though, I have never met (or even heard of) a female sysadmin.
    My intuition tells me that the drop in female CS graduates is explained by the rising number of women in the hard sciences: if they have good math skills, they choose to go into sciences other than CS.

  4. Swiftee wrote: “If I were advising a college bound student today, I’d recommend they major in Chinese.”
    If Trump really wanted to hit the Chinese where it would hurt, he would eliminate student visas for Chinese nationals. The Chinese social & political elite send their kids to college in the US.
    If college admission was determined only by SAT scores, all of higher education, and especially graduate schools, would be heavily Asian, not white. Five times as many Asians as whites score 750-800 on the math portion of the SAT (3% v 15%).

  5. I wonder if altruism versus pragmatism also comes into play, Mitch: The world only has use for so many “Womyn’s Studies” graduates at one time, but STEM graduates fuel humanity’s technological progress. I have encountered many women who state how they’d like to work for a nonprofit after college, and then state how they want to drive a (coal-powered) Tesla– they don’t appreciate it when I point out their “altruism” won’t pay the bills right out of college.

    Men, I believe, on the other hand, despite decades of being told we’re ____ists, still have a hardwired biological imperative to be a provider– provide shelter, food, comfort, security, etc. (of course, the bell curve Mitch brought up applies here too).

  6. Swiftee;

    Astute observation about women not liking engineering. It may have some truth to it. A woman from my childhood neighborhood, was scary smart in math in high school. In fact, she helped one of my sisters get through her classes. She graduated near the top of her class with a Electrical Engineering degree from the U of M, back when one of those degrees from there meant something. I ran into her a couple of years ago and was surprised to hear that after about 10 years working as an engineer doing exactly what she went to school for, she switched to nursing and has been doing that for the past 21 years.

  7. There’s a been an explosion of women lawyers and court functionaries (child support expediter, guardian ad litem, custody study, divorce court referee, probate registrar, public defenders, child support enforcement officers).

    Minnesota’s statute on appointed judges specifically requires consideration of women and minorities. The bench is rapidly filling up with women. The ‘justice system’ is becoming feminized by people who went to Saint Kates and were appointed by Governor Moonbeam and the like.

    These are the type of people for whom the presumption of innocence depends on your social status and skin color. I predict that when Minnesota gets red flag laws, they’ll be handing out gun confiscation orders like Kleenex. Probably have boxes of them pre-printed just waiting for the name and address to fill in the blank.

  8. All’s I can say, JD, is Sweden, here we come. Just go to the Gatestone Institute website and do a search on Sweden.

    On the other hand, it will be interesting to see just how the more conservative areas of MN would react to red flag laws and gun confiscations. Outside the metro area, the seven counties, the residents are quite different from those inside.

  9. I remember being force fed in college literature class; Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Best”. It worked. I came away detesting anything that an English teacher would call literature and Ken Kesey in particular. I burned the book after finishing the class.

  10. I came away detesting anything that an English teacher would call literature and Ken Kesey in particular.

    My college English prof was almost singlehandedly responsible for me becoming a conservative in my twenties rather than forties.

    And he had me reading Solzenitzyn and Dostoevski.

    Don’t think he could get a job in the field these days.

    With you on Kesey.

  11. Jay Dee
    there should be red flag laws for literature – anyone pushing the likes of Kesey, Vonnegut, Hesse, Pirsig, Plath, and Bly (to name a few) should be subject to arbitrary and preemptive search and seizure.

  12. I still say flunking out of the U of M was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. I was on a poly sci/US History double major. Which caused EVERYONE I let know that to have the same damn follow up question, “Oh, so your going to law school after you graduate?” Yeah… no I couldnt think of anything less appealing than that. I also constantly challenged professors, especially the poly sci classes where these idiot professors taught all this theory that doesnt work in the real world. I was incredibily outspoken (I know, shocking to anyone who knows me in person) and wasn’t kicked out of class as often as I probably should have been but the professors didnt scare me at all. College is a complete and utter disaster now and I wouldnt send me future kids there unless things change dramatically.

  13. Oh my favorite was a ethics class at Normandale where we read Peter Singer. I called him a Nazi at least once a class and no one, not even the teacher, responded to me because the guy is the closest thing out there to one. His views are disturbing to say the least.

  14. As the great philosopher Dennis Towne once told me, women have nothing to complain about, they have half the money and all of the pussy.

  15. PoD;

    I concur on your assessment of Peter Singer. That guy is a nut job.

    Maybe that’s why Australia has gone to shit.

  16. It is not just the schools who produce STEM students, but the corporations who hire them.

    From an article in today’s The Federalist:

    AT&T is hardly alone in this arguably self-destructive high-level partisanship. As Baron Political Affairs, LLC revealed in 2019, every single director of a Fortune 100 company who has been elected or has worked for an administration has been (or worked for) a Democrat. The ratio shifts to two Democrats for every Republican in the Fortune 100 generally, and to 5:1 for financial or tech firms within that group.

  17. LOL PoD! My PoliSci degree from a Big 10 university has not landed me a single job in the 35+ years since graduation. What did land me the first couple of jobs fresh out of school were the industrial supervision classes I started taking as a minor in my junior year. It took all of a year working in the real world after graduation to transform me from wild-eyed leftist to Reagan conservative.

  18. Artie, the biggest difference for me was I never lost my conservatism all throughout my too many years in college. I am what you would call a 9/11 Republican and getting into it with leftist poly sci professors who didnt know how to handle dissent in their class was probably the most enjoyable part of my college experience.

  19. Swiftee, BH: I do integrated circuit design (primarily analog). At our site with about 100 folks doing that, there are about 2 who are female, both Asian, so they aren’t *unheard of*, but rather uncommon. At IBM, where managers got all sorts of brownie points from upper management for women and non-Asian minority hires, we had about 4 women in an area that did a more balanced mix of analog and digital design, and all 4 were not Asian. The Asian gals here have been doing IC design for about 10 years solid, while of the gals in IBM only one came even close to 10 years. The IBMers went off into software where they had more reasonable schedules for having lives, er…., kids.

    One thing I’ve noticed about the difference between hardware and software engineering (coders), is that there are pretty rigid ideas of review, procedure, coverage, and assigning blame than there are in coding. It makes sense, since just buying the masks for one of our chips runs about $7-10M these days and that’s not counting costs to actually run a lot through the fab, so if you were slacking off and missed something the company isn’t very happy. Not to mention that with today’s cycle times it’ll be a minimum slip of 6 months, and that’s after you’ve spent all the time/labor/cost to debug the problem so a bug usually means a minimum of a year’s loss of market, which isn’t good for the company’s bottom line.

    Software tends to be more shoot-from-the-hip, and while they don’t like errors, it’s not like there’s a ton of money coming out of your manager’s budget that can be seen by everyone if you screw up.

    And yes, I’ve screwed up in the past and it hasn’t been pleasant, but it helps if you’re not as socially attuned as most women tend to be and can shrug it off. It’s even better if you build in flexibility to your design, hence the bank of bits in the register space marked “reserved.” (At one point a marketing type took some internal documentation for a circuit I had designed and let a customer see it without checking with the design department. I got a call from said customer who asked, “I see some bits in the reserved area marked ADC_driver_gain_CYA[5:0]. Does that mean what I think it does, and what’s the default value?”)

  20. Default value for CYA bits is “1”, of course. Duh. Hope the customer got a kick out of that!

    Agreed with Nerdbert about the differences between software and hardware design as well–hardware tends to be classical/traditional program management, while software tends to work better with agile. It can be quite bewildering.

    To the topic, one big concern I have had while watching professional societies to which I belong, as well as companies for which I’ve worked, is the degree to which government interference starts calling the shots among private associations and industry. To be sure, you’ve got hints of it going back at least into the 1960s (just read old National Geographics), but it seems to have strengthened in the past couple of decades.

    And that’s sad. If my employer screws the pooch in terms of employees, I just go to another employer. If it becomes a national requirement, then it’s “not just bestiality” anymore.

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