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An interesting study discusses a variety of reasons why there are gender differences in the STEM area.
It is a well-known and widely lamented fact that men outnumber women in a number of fields in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The most commonly discussed explanations for the gender gaps are discrimination and socialization, and the most common policy prescriptions target those ostensible causes. However, a great deal of evidence in the behavioral sciences suggests that discrimination and socialization are only part of the story. The purpose of this paper is to highlight other aspects of the story: aspects that are commonly overlooked or downplayed. More precisely, the paper has two main aims. The first is to examine the evidence that factors other than workplace discrimination contribute to the gender gaps in STEM. These include relatively large average sex differences in career and lifestyle preferences, and relatively small average differences in cognitive aptitudes - some favoring males, others favoring females - which are associated with progressively larger differences the further above the average one looks. The second aim is to examine the evidence suggesting that these sex differences are not purely a product of social factors but also have a substantial biological (i.e. inherited) component. A more complete picture of the causes of the unequal sex ratios in STEM may productively inform policy discussions.
Source: Men, women and STEM: Why the differences and what should be done?
The classification in the study is as follows:
- Sex differences in preferences and priorities
- Sex differences in cognitive aptitudes
- Sex differences in variability
- Bias and discrimination in the workplace
- Policy implications
- Leveling the playing field vs. equalizing sex ratios
- Conclusion: Many factors at play
I thought I would go through these points one by one because there is a lot of interesting stuff
In summary, any exhaustive discussion of the relative dearth of women in certain STEM fields must take into account the burgeoning science of human sex differences. If we assume that men and women are psychologically indistinguishable, then any disparities between the sexes in STEM will be seen as evidence of discrimination, leading to the perception that STEM is highly discriminatory. Similarly, if we assume that such psychological sex differences as we find are due largely or solely to non-biological causes, then any STEM gender disparities will be seen as evidence of arbitrary and sexist cultural conditioning. In both cases, though, the assumptions are almost certainly false. A large body of research points to the following conclusions:
- that men and women differ, on average, in their occupational preferences, aptitudes and levels of within-sex variability;
- that these differences are not due solely to sociocultural causes but have a substantial inherited component as well; other
- that the differences, coupled with the demands of bearing and rearing children, are the main source of the gender disparities we find today in STEM. Discrimination appears to play a smaller role, and in some cases mayfavor women, rather than disfavoring them.
So the conclusions as follows:
- that men and women differ on average in their professional preferences, inclinations and the degree of intra-sex variability;
- that these differences are not only due to socio-cultural causes but also have a significant inherited component; and
- that these differences, combined with the demands of giving birth and raising children, are the main cause of the gender differences that we find in STEM subjects today. Discrimination seems to play a lesser role and in some cases it may favor women rather than disadvantage them.
The amazing thing is that the first point in discussions usually encounters considerable contradiction, at least if it is not associated with a narrative of suppression.
An indication that men are more interested in technology is then attacked without further details of the reason, probably because that is somehow assumed. On the other hand, if you say that women are unfortunately not introduced to technology because of their upbringing, you are more likely to agree. However, bizarrely, this can disappear again immediately if one states that because of this upbringing there are fewer technology-savvy women and it is no wonder that the corresponding areas are then occupied by men.
But of course the second point is the real crux of the matter. You can often bring whatever arguments you want, you are simply wrong on principle. Inquiries about which studies prove the opposite and have convinced the person mostly lead to abstract references to e.g. feminist literature etc., but never actually to specific studies.
The point that women are even favored then tends to trigger gasps and block reflexes.
These conclusions have important implications for the way ademics and policy makers handle gender gaps in STEM. Based on the foregoing discussion, we suggest that the approach that would be most conducive to maximizing individual happiness and autonomy would be to strive for equality of opportunity, but then to respect men and women’s decisions regarding their own lives and careers, even if this does not result in gender parity across all fields. Approaches that focus instead on equality of outcomes - including quotas and financial inducements - may exact a toll in terms of individual happiness. To the extent that these policies override people’s preferences, they effectively place the goal of equalizing the statistical properties of groups above the happiness and autonomy of the individuals within those groups. Some might derive different conclusions from the emerging understanding of human sex differences. Either way, though, it seems hard to deny that this understanding should be factored into the discussion.
The approach that equality of outcame can reduce individual joie de vivre is not a good argument in the discussion because it is difficult to measure and verify.
Feminists will argue that women would all be much happier when they are no longer oppressed and that alone will significantly improve their quality of life. And that it still leads to a better life for women who might like their job a little less than someone else.
Overall, a very good study from my point of view, because it gives a good overview in many areas, provides a large number of studies and is therefore a good reference work for future discussions.
Did you find the review interesting that way? Is that suitable for other studies? Do you know of a comparable study that should be discussed in this way?
I like it:
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