07 March 2007

In a Free Society, Women Do What they Want

Over the ten year period from 1994 to 2004, female graduate students in the US have continued to make substantial gains in proportion of total enrollment across the board, in science and engineering.

This is to be expected in a free society. What is most interesting is the particular areas where women have broken through the 50% enrollment barrier--making them the majority of graduate students in those fields. In Psychology, Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences, women constitute the majority of graduate students.

In the math intensive fields, women remain less than 40% of total graduate enrollment. As detailed in this La Griffe du Lion essay, the curve for mathematical aptitude is different in women vs. men. Given that most people choose to do what they are good at, it is not surprising that more women graduate students choose fields with less math emphasis.

At the very highest levels of achievement in math-intensive fields--the Fields Medal in math, or Nobel Prizes in the physical sciences (chemistry, physics)--one does not expect to find a large proportion of women.

Over time, one would expect more women to enter fields that had been excessively skewed in favour of men historically. Such has happened in Psychology--where women constitute nearly 75% of all graduate students in the US. Such has also happened in medicine and law. They certainly should be entering those fields--huge and expensive outreaches to attract women to these fields have been ongoing, and expanding rapidly, for decades.

At this point, it is most important that both men and women are allowed to enter the field that interests them the most. Trying to force women into certain fields, as a recent NAS committee attempts, besides being massively expensive, is both illiberal and unwise. In a free society, women do what they want.

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