Charles Fain Lehman wrote an opinion piece on February 22, 2018, for freebeacon.com about a study that claims it helps explain persistent male and female gaps in hard sciences. The original study can be found at journals.sagepub.com, and I left a link to the article and the original study below. The study focused on the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, referred to as STEM. The abstract explains that the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM fields is a constant concern of policymakers. They used an international database on adolescent achievement to evaluate the differences in the sexes across many countries. The study showed that more girls appear capable of college-level STEM study programs than those enrolled at the college level. This was determined by evaluating adolescent academic performance in Science Math and Reading, compared to the percentage of young women who enroll in the STEM field of college study.
While they found that many young women are perfectly capable of pursuing a STEM field higher education, the greater percentage of young women choose different fields of study. One important point the study stressed as paradoxical was that the nations with greater gender inequality showed an increase in young women's STEM field enrollments. The study concluded that gender equality relieves the added stress on young women, allowing them to pursue a field of study aligned with their passions, rather than a field of study required for survival. Therefore, women in more egalitarian societies will henceforth enroll less in STEM-related higher education and employment. The study appears to have a bias against gender equality, and don't worry; I'll clarify why I believe this to be the case.
Feminists, psychologists, and human rights advocates have been saying for decades that women are capable of the same intelligence levels and conceptual understanding as men. Intelligence is not based on gender or race. If women are treated with equal consideration as men, they're fully capable of performing in highly intellectual fields. Plus, gender equality reduces violence against women and girls and is essential for economic prosperity. Still, the paradox in the abstract is as follows, "A mediation analysis suggested that life-quality pressures in less gender-equal countries promote girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM subjects."
In other words, we see that young women pursue STEM fields in nations with greater equality at higher numbers. Still, studies suggest countries with less gender equality promote female engagement with STEM subjects more? Now that's a paradox. There seems to be a clear problem with the data sets and how the information is being parsed. The study did not answer all the questions in conclusion. To clarify, the study was published by a couple of men, so it's already possible the datasets they used were biased in their collection. I don't say this to attack the men at all. I'm assuming they were approaching the study from academic curiosity and had good intentions, but we all have our biases. When doing research that is specifically looking at the negative gender biases about women's intellect, it's probably best to make sure the men performing the study are fully aware of any misogynistic viewpoints they may hold. We can still be objective, as long as we're aware of our personal biases and we take that into account when we do our analysis. It's unclear if that was considered. We can manipulate data to have any outcome by omitting any data points related to things that might contradict the overall story we want to tell. Regarding this research, I believe that is what happened, now let's talk about why I theorize this.
As a data analyst, we want to evaluate the KPIs or Key Performance Indicators for the subject. One major indicator of the types of behavior exhibited by the vast majority of students based on sex will be their religious indoctrination and how traditional they are on gender roles. Subsequently, it appears that the relation to religion and the pervasiveness of gender-based stereotypes in the study were not part of the equation. The Economic and Statistics Administration datasets show that half of all college-educated workers are women, but only 25 percent are in a STEM field. What could affect that? Perhaps the gender role stereotypes? Could it be that the 25% are atheists or from less strictly religious households? Or maybe, just maybe, the Good Ol' Boys Club mentality of the male-dominated industries that have documented a higher percentage of pervasive sexual discrimination is a little bit intimidating to most women. Perhaps.
The paradoxical data indicates there is a missing element of the study. At least one question not yet asked didn't make it into the case study. What were the religious beliefs and expected gender-based roles of all the participants of the study? I get that since it was a national dataset studied and not an individual survey where they could cater the data to meet the full needs of their analysis. Still, when we don't have access to all the data, we need to draw a sound conclusion, it's our duty to ask the questions left unanswered, so hopefully, someone else can pick up where we left off. The study failed even to consider the overall national expectations when it comes to socially constructed gender roles.
The study looked at 475,000 adolescents born between 2001-2002 (15-16 yrs old) across 67 countries and varying economic regions. The datasets were collected by PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), administered by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). The PISA surveys international literacy among reading, science, and math. At the same time, the OECD is a 37 country association that uses statistical databases to create reports for analyses and to generate forecasts of global economic growth. The study authors compared the students' individual strength categorized by gender and per subject in math, reading, and science before comparing them to the national average.
For example, a person could rank highest in reading and lower in math and science, but might also be higher in math and science than the national average. In contrast, one could rank highest in math or science personally but still be below the national average for all subjects. 475 thousand students globally might sound like a lot, but when we're talking about 195 countries globally, and they only surveyed 67, that means they surveyed less than 34% of all the countries. If all the countries they did survey were surveyed equally, that's roughly 7090 students per country. If we take the US, for example, in 2018, the year of the study, there were roughly 8.6 million kids to choose from for the study's demographic parameters. 1% of 8.6 million is 86,000, so if they only collected 7090, that's such a small sample it's just a pinch over 8% of the 1%. It's nowhere near large enough or unbiased enough to represent the whole of any population, much less the global population.
The study explains that in all countries except Romania and Lebanon, the boys scored best in science on an individual level, meaning they did better than other subjects like math and reading personally. Still, when compared to the national average, they weren't any better at science than girls because they equaled out in the long run. Subjectively, the article emphasizes that boys do better in science individually than in math or reading. However, again, the study indicated one can do best in science or math and still be below the national average on all of their scores. It doesn't mean boys are better at science overall on average, just that they're best at science individually on average. Subjectively they can still be the worst student overall. Maybe they like science experiments, so they paid more attention and managed to get a C in that class while in all other classes, they got Ds. We don't know what the situation is because they didn't get that information. We know that the whole purpose was a wash because when they look at the national average, girls and boys performed the same.
The study found that when it comes to the boy's group's individual strengths per subject, 38% performed best with science, 42% with math, and only 20% with reading. This is not to say that anyone in the group is terrible at reading. However, it's also not to say any of them are good at math, and it's just to say that subjectively, on an individual level, they ranked best in these categories compared only to themselves. When they looked at the female participant's performance, in the same way, they found that half the group was best at either science or math, while half the group was best at reading. So on an individual level, it would appear that girls' subjective personal strengths tend to lean toward reading while boys lean toward math. Still, again, we don't know each individual's subjective strengths in the study compared to the overall national average.
What percentage of the kids were female? What percentage of the kids were male? How many kids were above average? How many kids were below average? If there are more boys or more girls in the group, that could skew the results. If there are more of one gender or the other, it will skew the individual results. Still, if the national average doesn't reflect equal percentages for the study group, it will skew the national average comparison. If the national average is for a population that is 53% female and the individual analysis group is 53% male, that can have seriously flawed implications for the outcome of the study. Rather than answering any of these questions, though, the authors of the research paper allege that they've discovered why there is a gender gap when it comes to STEM field higher education and jobs. The authors noted that there were national differences in the individual subject performances between genders in some countries. For example, one country might have girls outperforming boys individually when it comes to math and science. Still, for some undisclosed reason, it equals out in the national averages when they do the overall review, or girls may even be seen as underperforming in some comparisons. Instead of finding out what policies and social institutions are driving such changes in those regions, the conclusion is generalized as if to say, it's just a small group, so it must be a fluke. It isn't a fluke that girls and women performing well or even better than their male counterparts. To suggest such a thing is misogyny at its core. It stems from the core belief that men are superior to women, boys superior to girls, male superiority, and patriarchy supremacy. They have gathered the research that suits their narrative and said hold up- stop right there. I have proof you're inferior so that you can shut up now.
As I said, I'm not suggesting that was the intention of the men who wrote all these articles, but I can't help but wonder how much confirmation bias they soothed when writing it. I can't help but wonder how much easier they sleep having this arsenal at their side for the next battle of the sexes argument they encounter. It goes deeper than genders, though. The article also suggests that they believe there is sufficient data to indicate social safety net programs reduce the likelihood of women entering STEM fields. They allege that more egalitarian nations give women the luxury of seeking their passions. In less egalitarian nations, women are forced to choose a STEM field to achieve some semblance of stability rather than focusing on their academic strengths. I will agree that, at least in the US, it's true that in wealthier families, many women choose to stay home to raise the kids. Statistically, they are also more inclined to adhere to stereotypical or traditional gender roles, which is their choice. "Choice" is the keyword. Whether the wealthy recognize it or not, the wealthy benefit from the social hierarchy that leaches money and productivity from the poor and grants them privileges that the majority don't have. Their evaluation of egalitarianism is also comical to me because there's no such society in the world. Were the study results gathered from the same school with varying socioeconomic backgrounds? Or were they pulled from various places regionally? The United States, as a country, varies widely in the quality of access to education. Even state by state, the quality and access will vary because there are so many kinds of education students can get. So were the kids surveyed in a religious school, military school, a boarding school, a charter school, a public school, a continuation school, or were they homeschooled?
If the statistics were gathered from a public school, was it a rural public school, a suburban public school, or an urban public school? This can mean the difference between a single room school with only half a dozen students of all ages K - 12, all the way through a 45 student per room single grade classroom style of education. Aside from all of those missing equations from the study, I would also like to know the percentage of religious households in the region? What religions are they? What is the core gender role of the prominent religion or religions in each region? Are women expected to go into certain fields because of laws against female engagement in other fields, much like the laws we had in the US in the early 1900s that restricted women from entering potentially dangerous employment? Are the women in the studies Christian? Many Christians believe women do not belong in some fields of work, such as science. Are the women who didn't pursue STEM field employment religious? When were the laws around gender equality changed in the regions that have greater gender equality? What are they considering egalitarian? Are women being paid the same as men for the same job? Do all women have full autonomy? When was that granted? These questions are important because we all know that changing a law doesn't change society overnight. It takes a few generations to see progress as more and more people begin to exercise their new rights. You think when women were all of a sudden allowed to open a bank account in their own name in the late 1960s and 1970s that all the women lined up at the bank to open an account? No, it was their daughters and granddaughters that opened up bank accounts.
Is this study really any different than the confirmation biased eugenics studies of white supremacy?
Will we ever get over this gender battle?