Individual Career Choices, Not Government Quotas, Should Define the Next 40 Years of Title IX



This month Title IX turned 40. Part of the 1972 Education Amendments, Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in federally supported educational programs and activities. Sexual harassment and college athletics typically receive the most attention; however, Title IX covers several additional key areas, including higher education access.

Today, the academic focus is shifting to the comparative rates of women and men with degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. But the question remains: do we really need government dictating our choices?

According to Title IX proponents such as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), “In many cases women still lag behind men in earning doctoral and professional degrees, particularly in nontraditional disciplines like math and science. Women receive, for example, only 18 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees and 12 percent of doctoral engineering degrees, due in large part to the hostile environment many face in these fields.” Actual statistics and labor projections suggest that women are more likely basing degree decisions on hard-nosed economics—not fear and trembling.

Among Americans with college and advanced degrees educational attainment by gender suggests at best a balance—and at worst, a disadvantage for men. Roughly an equal proportion of women and men have some college education (17 percent each), an associate’s degree (10 percent women, 8 percent men), or a master’s degree (9 percent women, 7 percent men). The proportion of women and men with bachelors, professional, and doctoral degrees is also a statistical dead-heat with less than a single percentage-point advantage for men.

Yet Title IX advocates don’t dwell on this parity. Instead, they worry that women are not earning the “right” kinds of advanced degrees. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE), for example, admits that today women earn nearly or more than half the bachelor’s or postgraduate degrees in biology, psychology, and chemistry (p. 19). They say gender bias explains why women are earning far fewer advanced degrees in engineering and computer science (p. 18), fields projected to grow 10 percent and 22 percent, respectively, over the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Chart 6).

These high-growth fields are attracting significant attention from state and national policymakers hoping to reboot the economy and promote global competitiveness. Yet together engineering and computer science represent just 14 percent of all doctorates awarded in 2008-09. Nor are these the highest growth fields.

Women earned the majority of doctorates in 10 of 21 related doctoral fields included in the BLS’ occupational growth projections for the next decade. Men earned the majority of doctorates 11 other fields, but only because two men and no women earned doctorates in communications technologies in 2008-09—hardly a gender bias smoking gun.

More significant is the fact that the fields in which women earn the majority of doctorates are also projected to grow the most. These fields include the top-ranked profession healthcare and related clinical sciences (29 percent growth), as well as public administration and social services (24 percent growth). Other fields in which women earned the majority of doctorates have projected growth rates of 10 to 18 percent, including: visual and performing arts; biological and biomedical sciences; psychology; education; library science; communications and journalism; security and protective services; and architecture and related services (Chart 6).

On average the doctoral fields women choose are projected to grow 17 percent, compared to a 16 percent average in the fields where men earn the majority of doctorates.

However enamored Title IX proponents and policymakers may be with PhD’s, it is worth wondering whether employers outside academia actually consider them vital to their industries.

Moreover, numerous other occupations that do not require doctorates are expected to grow even more than computer science, including personal care services, projected to grow 27 percent.

Many more occupations are also projected to grow more than engineering, including building and grounds cleaning maintenance (12 percent); sales (13 percent); transportation and materials moving (13 percent); as well as installation, maintenance, and repair (15 percent) (Chart 6). But for some reason Title IX proponents aren’t encouraging women to go into those fields.

Artificially leveling the athletic and academic playing fields is bad enough. Worse is government meddling with adults’ livelihoods under the guise of “gender equality.”

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