Girls’ comparative advantage in reading can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields

In an earlier post, Do Boys Have a Comparative Advantage in Math and Science? I pointed to evidence showing that boys have a comparative advantage in math because they are much worse than girls at reading. (Boys do not have a large absolute advantage in math.) If people specialize in their personal comparative advantage this can easily lead to more boys than girls entering math training even if girls are equally or more talented. As I wrote earlier:

[C]onsider what happens when students are told: Do what you are good at! Loosely speaking the situation will be something like this: females will say I got As in history and English and B’s in Science and Math, therefore, I should follow my strengthens and specialize in drawing on the same skills as history and English. Boys will say I got B’s in Science and Math and C’s in history and English, therefore, I should follow my strengths and do something involving Science and Math.

A new paper in PNAS by Breda and Napp finds more evidence for the comparative advantage hypothesis. Breda and Napp look at intention to study math in ~300,000 students worldwide taking the PISA.

PISA2012 includes questions related to intentions to pursue math-intensive studies and careers. These intentions are measured through a series of five questions that ask students if they are willing (i) to study harder in math versus English/reading courses, (ii) to take additional math versus English/reading courses after school finishes, (iii) to take a math major versus a science major in college, (iv) to take a maximum number of math versus science classes, and (v) to pursue a career that involves math versus science. Our main measure of math intentions is an index constructed from these five questions and available for more than 300,000 students. It captures the desire to do math versus both reading and other sciences.

What they find is that comparative advantage (math ability relative to reading ability) explains math intentions better than actual math or reading ability. Comparative advantage is also a better predictor of math intentions than perceptions of math ability (women do perceive lower math ability relative to true ability than do men but the effect is less important than comparative advantage). In another data set the authors show that math intentions predict math education.

Thus, accumulating evidence shows that over-representation of males in STEM fields is perhaps better framed as under-representation of males in reading fields and the latter is driven by relatively low reading achievement among males.

As the gender gap in reading performance is much larger than that in math performance, policymakers may want to focus primarily on the reduction of the former. Systematic tutoring for low reading achievers, who are predominantly males, would be a way, for example, to improve boys’ performance in reading. A limitation of this approach, however, is that it will lower the gender gap in math-intensive fields mostly by pushing more boys in humanities, hence reducing the share of students choosing math.

The authors don’t put it quite so bluntly but another approach is to stop telling people to do what they are good at and instead tell them to do what pays! STEM fields pay more than the humanities so if people were to follow this advice, more women would enter STEM fields. I believe that education spillovers are largest in the STEM fields so this would also benefit society. It is less clear whether it would benefit the women.

Hat tip: Mary Clare Peate.


In a privatized student loan market, lenders would "tell" people what to major in by charging lower interest rates for students majoring in subjects likely to lead to high-paying jobs. Such a loan market would steer women towards STEM to the extent that such jobs pay better. I have seen statistics showing that engineering and computer science pay well, biology not such much (excluding doctors).

Of course this might make everyone less happy because most women want their husbands to earn more than them and most husbands want to earn more than their wives.
Cest la vie

My wife made much more than me when we married. I was an Asst States Attorney and she was a biomedical engineer. We discussed whether to raise our future kids with two incomes or one, and who would work.

We ultimately decided she would be a stay at home mom. Since that time I changed careers and tripled my salary. That wasn't in our calculus at the time we decided. But her nurturing nature was. While I would have been capable of being a stay at home dad and i do have substantial teaching experience, she is the better mentor for our girls. She teaches them everything including science and household duties. This has allowed me to focus on developing income. Now that I have a book of business, I have regular hours and spend evenings and weekends with the girls. It worked out splendidly and not entirely by accident. Score one for traditional gender roles.

My wife doesn't miss the old job at all.

We already have a privatized student loan market. "Federal student loans made to parents (PLUS loans)[38]: Much higher limit, but payments start immediately. Credit history is considered; approval is not automatic.

Private student loans, made to students or parents: Higher limits and no payments until after graduation, although interest starts to accrue immediately and the deferred interest is added to the principal, so there is interest on the (deferred) interest (which Is not the case with subsidized student loans). "

As for defaulted debt: "Approximately 30 percent of all college students do not incur debt. [8] The schools with the highest amount of student loan debt are University of Phoenix, Walden University, Nova Southeastern University, Capella University, and Strayer University. [9] Except for Nova Southeastern, they are all proprietary (profit-making) universities." From Wiki:

But PLUS loans are based on the PARENT'S ability to repay, not the students. Their majors are irrelevant.

That's kind of like a private lender already making the decision though. If a parent wants to allow their kid to major in something with a risk that they'll be supporting said child well into adulthood, that's their choice. Seems like the parents pushing kids into specific majors would work better than an anonymous "evil" banker.

Totally agree.

On the condition that Universities are now treated as corporations and taxed as such. Also all federal funds are eliminated. And Pell Grants, and the GI Bill becomes an automatic cash stipend.

And the Universities can be sued for false advertising.

Or, let student loans be akin to any other loan. Dischargeable in bankruptcy and treated as any other loan.

Using financial institutions as the arbiter of which students get to go to college would force reform quickly. Debt to students with under a 1300 SAT would be junk bonds. Trade that shit on the market.

A bet is a tax on bullshit. A free market approach to student loans is a tax on rent seeking. Let Goldman Sachs buy and sell student loan funds with no restrictions. I want the ability to short sell any sub 1200 SAT score student loan funds.

And eliminate all federal programs to alleviate student debt. I don’t care if someone works for a non profit hospital in a rural area. I don’t own her school debt.

There is no difference between boys and girls - all the most progressive people are quite insistent. So obviously there can’t be any comparative advantage.

Exactly. If we can't profit from misogyny we must at least parody the blank slate.

Parody opportunities abound.

-1, typical Anonymous. He tries to pretend that pointing out the obvious, that there are differences between boys and girls, is somehow misogyny.

However, I'm quite sure if someone came on here claiming that girls were better than boys at English and History he wouldn't make a claim of misandry.

Pointing out differences when they are to male advantage, and collapsing immediately at any hint of female advantage, is indeed misogyny.

no u

I don't think you can beat that logic. If someone only talks male advantage, that isn't very scientific or humanist.

Now, maybe I did misread Engineer's intention. Maybe he did embrace the female comparative advantage that is the theme of this blog post. Maybe he was just taunting imagined blank slaters in the wings. Maybe.

But I think I've heard comments here saying that Damore "proved" that there aren't enough suitable women for STEM.

Since when does someone need to imagine blank-slatists? They're everywhere in the social sciences.

I've never met one in real life, and no one in my internet value network takes a "blank slate" seriously. So much so that it seems more a rhetorical foil (a la Pinker) to me than real.

Maybe if you've got your head in the sand you could think that

Who is a prominent blank slater, then? Can you name someone "oh, I didn't know that about them?"

Or will you have to dredge the depths for a nobody?

Would that Judith Butler, to take but one example, were a nobody:

That name seems slightly familiar. Her work at the link seems typical of Bay Area weirdness. I'll have to think about that. I've been discounting Bay Area weirdness all my life. It doesn't seem part of any serious intellectual sphere.

How about Catharine MacKinnon?,men's%20desires%20(MacKinnon%201989).

First note that I might actually be more dismissive than anyone who wants to worry about Bay Area weirdness (BAW?). I think the best answer to "gender has no biological foundation" is "is that a Starbucks?"

That said, I think this second one is a little more nuanced. There are socializations of gender. (BAW is a prime example!) And the conclusion is not exactly hard and fast:

"The jury is still out on what the best, the most useful or (even) the correct definition of gender is. And some contemporary feminists still find there to be value in the original 1960s sex/gender distinction."

Yes, there are gender-specific patterns of socialization, and being blank slater means you think they determine just about everything. That's what being a blank-slater means.

Oh I know, and I did scan that text for a hard link. The section on body dimorphisnm came close, but not quite:

"These examples suggest that physiological features thought to be sex-specific traits not affected by social and cultural factors are, after all, to some extent products of social conditioning. Social conditioning, then, shapes our biology."

It's hard to argue with "to some extent." (And I think male and female body goals have evolved toward the more muscular in my lifetime.)

(Never heard of Catharine MacKinnon previously.)

You never heard of a woman who, for four decades, has been one of the world's foremost feminist theorists and legal scholars? And yet you actually think you know enough to judge what ideas about sex and gender have prominent advocates?

Which is a good one, is that only the nutjobs who love her and the nutjobs who are terrified of her know who she is. The vast majority of us do not, which is as it should be.

Offline, no one really cares about the stuff that gets the most 'debate' here.

Yeah, you're right, the ideas of the person whose work is the foundation of sexual harassment law are clearly of no importance to anyone who isn't a nutjob. After all, who's affected by those ideas other than people who have workplaces or go to school?

I guess those of us who manage to fly through adulthood without ever even coming close to sexually harassing anyone just need to educate ourselves more. So, 99.9% of us?

"... and collapsing immediately at any hint of female advantage,"

That's more irrational than usual, even for you.

Straight from the post above: " females will say I got As in history and English ...Boys will say I got B’s in Science and Math"

Yet, you launched no objection to that. But Engineer mentions differences in boys and girls and you immediately respond with a charge of misogyny.

I do sometimes wonder if you are incapable of seeing how irrational your statements actually are. Or if it's all a troll. Granted, I'm not going to spend too much time trying to figure it out.

A swing and a miss.


Anything your communists brethren do or say that is objectionable, you deny that they have done and say everyone is imagining it. Anything anyone you don't like says that you agree with, you twist to interpret as unreasonable. Only someone desperate to see a bad guy to attack could interpret Engineer's post as anything but sarcasm.

This guy can't even find the batter's box.

Go home, you're drunk

Right Bart, not the guy who leads with "Anything your communists brethren do."

It's almost like Anon was trolling for *you* and you stepped up.

So the only logical conclusion is simply that women are superior to men?

That's a given. Women are the bottleneck for child production. Men are expendable to a much greater degree.

Really? Because the entire history of social development in every corner of the world throughout history doesnt bear that out. Matriarchy is the rare exception to the rule.

Men have always been the protectors of women and children from all kinds of threats but mainly other men.

Today its from spiders.

Fact is, most human reproduction for hundreds of thousands of years more closely resembled rape than courtship.

Those were the days, eh?

"Men have always been the protectors of women and children from all kinds of threats but mainly other men."

Yes, that's what expendable means. The "protectors" are the one's who died first. They were considered more expendable than the women and children.

The phys anthropology tends to suggest lower female life expectancy in the pre-modern period, pretty much universally.

Societies perhaps didn't act so much as if men were more expendable.

It's a bit of stretch to go from "Died more from war" to "More expendable". Sometimes people are actually less expendable because they are useful in warfare! Even when they are less useful in bearing children... Sometimes the people who are less useful in warfare have bad things happen to them, even if they are useful in bearing children! Such are the ways of the past...

Likely due to death in childbirth.

Yep. Think of what it must have been like, knowing that your lot in life was get pregnant a few times and risk death each one.

Maybe, maybe not. Maternal mortality, at height, was about 1% of female deaths ( Not 1% of childbirths gave rise to death, 1% of deaths total

Is that alone big enough to shift female mortality, or were more women treated as expendable in more manifold ways? I don't have a good intuitive estimate here.

I mean, to add a comment here, it's a very modern thing to think, "Oh we can do with fewer soldiers, physically strong, spatially gifted craftsmen and farmers, and the likes of both of these, so long as we have lots of wombs to work with. We'll still get by.".

People in the past did not think like this! They often thought the exact opposite of this! Often because it was men who made these decisions, true, but this still had consequences!

No, here's the serious answer.

There are lots of situations where the variation within group A or B is more significant than the difference between medians for groups A and B.

Most prejudice arises from over-concentration on (perceived?) medians rather than the example of the individual standing before you.

The average and median are irrelevant in 2019. (Also the same given normal distribution.)

The average person is not an engineer at google or a theoretical physicist at Caltech.

People are losing their minds over the 97th percentile and up, because these positions pay well? No idea.

Who cares what sex organs this small group of people has.

Paging Larry Summers...

Comparative advantage is one of the most useful concepts ever developed and should be taught to kids at a young age. “Don’t do what you’re best at; do what you’re best at relative to what other people are good at” is fantastic career advice. Smart kids are often stuck in career ruts because they ignore this concept, do what they are absolutely best at (often less quantitative fields, which other people tend to be better at too) and thus enter oversaturated fields.

#1 - STEM fields are massively oversaturate
#2 The ONLY people who STEM is good for are people who are deeply passionate about it. Most STEM jobs are passion professions much more akin to art.
#3 I'm pretty sure you have the concept of comparative advantage wrong there. Doesn't seem like you understand it yourself.
#4 Best career advice to smart kids who aren't massive nerds: stay away from engineering if you don't want to have a shit life

I don’t think that’s true. My peers who are making the most money and have the most career advancement now are working in quantitative fields like finance and tech (true, not as many in traditional engineering). Now there are people just out of college getting six-figure computer or data science jobs. I got As in both verbal and math, and would certainly have pursued a quantitative career if I could do it over again or if I had known and internalized the concept of comparative advantage as there are far more other A students in verbal subjects than in quantitative ones.

"The ONLY people who STEM is good for are people who are deeply passionate about it."

Definitely false. The vast majority of people have no passion for their jobs.

It definitely helps if, whatever you are doing, you get a kick out of the result.

Hello World!

Sort of true for me. I could probably have a significantly higher paying job (in the same field) if I wanted to work on boring projects, but I like working on cool stuff , at least for now. Perhaps in the future I will settle down and get a job for some large defense contractor that will pay me well to do the boring work that nobody else wants. That seems to be how it works - a bunch of young college grads doing all the fun technical work and then a number of established older people who do boring shit work like requirements.

The interesting thing is that the math/reading dichotomy actually worked the same way with me vs. my sister. We were both good at everything and had an intense sibling rivalry which was eventually settled by an unspoken agreement that I was allowed to be the best at math and science, and she was allowed to be the best at art/music/reading. So I ended up specializing in math/science and she became a musician.

"So I ended up specializing in math/science and she became a musician."

So, who ended up getting paid better?

Me, I think. I mean she was modestly successful for a few years with a band, and I think she have a few hundred grand in the bank at one point. But then she quit her band and spent all her money instead of buying a condo in Vancouver, which she would have made a killing off. She's working as a sort of freelance legal consultant in the music industry at the moment.

Score one for STEM!

The music industry is one of those things where you usually either make a killing or starve until you change careers. Also it's easy for a single woman with no kids to live in vancouver than a married woman with a family of four.

@JMarc - right on, and CNTRL + F + "patent" gives no hits in this thread. Solve for the equilibrium. Nobelist Cary Mullis got $10k for his path-breaking PCR invention. The rest of his big money he got from the Nobel Prize (how many people win that?) and expert testimony fees in the patent litigation (the Mullis PCR invention is a non-obvious and novel extension of the Sanger method of DNA detection, but Dupont wanted to litigate Cetus to break the Mullis patent rather than pay the licensing fee, they lost). Read the Rabinow book on "Inventing PCR". Numerous other examples; the ripped-off inventor is the rule. Learn how science is shit like JMarc says unless you have a passion for it; it don't pay. Piketty is right: the 1% rule by being gate keepers. Fee Simple Absolute? Sacrosanct. Mess with it and you're labeled a communist (Kelo v. New London being largely an aberration, thankfully). Advocate patent rights? You are labeled a communist or a statist. Intellectual property = theft, to invert Proudhon, de facto, it is stolen. Gatekeepers win. Why I dropped out of the labor force and became a happy member of the 1%. And my health thank God is not affected and I'm happy (work is hard, and if it's not probably you're either not working hard or your job is too easy, Google Marcus Aurelius).

STEM isn't' sacrosanct as much as a voice on campus, where a gender cap allows to be both gender neutral and pro science. It's not so much a split as a dissociation rendering that is completely based on a pattern. But do what your good at. And invert the yield curve. "Gatekeepers win."

Do you have a book recommendation for gaining a deep understanding of comparative advantage at a not-quite-young age? I understand that the fundamentals are straightforward but would be interested in a more thorough exploration of comparative advantage.

I don’t. The first I learned about it was from an Econ textbook. One example that made a lot of sense to me was if you have a lawyer who is also the world’s best typist and a secretary, it still makes sense for the lawyer to do the legal work and the secretary to do the typing even though the lawyer can type faster than the secretary.

Have you watched the MR University videos? It's a good place to start.

What we need is for someone to make a board game that teaches comparative advantage. Something playable by 10 year olds.

Settlers of Catan?

No, not really. Settlers of Catan doesn't teach comparative advantage. Indeed, it's more about being a Monopoly than the game Monopoly is. Settler's teaches you to quickly grab and monopolize all the good spots and build in a way that locks everyone else out of a scarce resource. And to use the robber to steal resources and to hamper production of other players.

I say "Careers" and "Pit."

I don't think there is any Comparative Advantage in Pit. The winner of every hand is the person with the absolute advantage (all) of a resource. You can't be worse at everything and still have a realistic chance of winning. The Winner is going to be the person who had the absolute advantage the most times.

How often do you win that game? Often times, the best way to win at Pit is to forego a corner on a higher-value resource in favor of a lower-value one that no one else wants. This is a perfect demonstration of comparative advantage.

Is it?

Comparative advantage is when you produce something and sell it, even though somebody else is better at producing. What you are describing is obtaining a Monopoly on one good. By it's very design, you can't win at Pit if anyone else has one of the cards you are concentrating on.

On the other hand in Kraftwagen, you can win even if you are selling cars that are inferior in every aspect to what other players are selling. That seems more representative of Comparative Advantage.

I think you're just refusing to learn a lesson about comparative advantage from Pit, which is a different matter entirely. I agree that it's possible to describe Pit in such a way that it avoids having to consider comparative advantage, but so what? No model or example is perfect.

"No model or example is perfect."

Sure, but if you were going to tell a person which game displays the concept of Comparative Advantage better, Pit or Kraftwagen, I think the winner is obvious.

If I was going to describe Pit, I would call it a light, card game where you strive to obtain a monopoly on a commodity. Whereas, Kraftwagen is a medium board game where you are striving to make the highest profit on building, selling and racing automobiles.

I'd recommend you play Kraftwagen at least once, before you make up your mind. I own and have played both.

Now what we need is for someone to take one of these games and, using the same underlying structure, make it about makeup and hair products and sell it in a pink box to 10 year old girls.

There's no copyright on the mechanisms of games. So you could buy a copy, change out all the IP and sell it.

Unfortunately, it's too complicated a game for most 10 year olds. Though you could create a version targeted at 14 year olds.

The best example of a Board game that teaches comparative advantage that I've played recently would be: Kraftwagen

Kraftwagen incentives players to specialize in one aspect of car production, engine size, body quality, salesmanship or cheapness. However, even if someone is better than you at every different category, you can still profitably compete by producing cars that respond to market demand in ways theirs don't.

I hadn't thought of it from the perspective of comparative advantage, but it is an excellent game.

The first few games, everyone is striving for an absolute advantage. Because that's obviously an advantage. But at some point in time you realize that one player is way ahead of you in Car Body and another player is way ahead of you in Engine size. Then the light bulb goes off.

If Player A puts his Body 5 and Engine 4 car up for sale, and puts a buyer interested in Body in the market.

And Player B puts his Body 4 and Engine 5 car up for sale, and puts a buyer interested in Engine in the market.

Then you Player C can put 2 crappy Body 3 and Engine 3 cars up for sale and put two additional buyers in the market. One interested in Engines and the other interested in Body Style.

The first buyer buys the Best Body Style (player A's), the second buyer buys the Best Engine (player B's) the other two buyers are left to buy Player C's cars. The key to that is running out the timer before player A and B can produce a second car.

I realized by the 3rd game or so, you could win with Cars that were worse in every way than the competition by using the actions you save in not upgrading your cars to build cars faster and manipulate the buyers market.

Of course a couple of games later the other players evolve their play and the easy wins are over. ;)

Tim Taylor gives this example:

Suppose you and your ten-year-old son (that was his example, change to daughter if you prefer) go on a camping trip. There are a bunch of chores to be done... someone has to set up the tent, dig a latrine, clear a fire pit, get some stones to surround the fire, collect kindling, catch some fish, etc.

Now... being bigger and more experienced, you have an "absolute" advantage over your son in all of these chores. But does that imply that your son should sit around and do nothing while you do all the work? Of course not. Your son should do the chores at which he has a "comparative" advantage. Intuitively you understand what this means: he should collect the kindling, for example, because you could put up the entire tent in that amount of time.

Good example. I just want to add "or your wife's son" :)

You also need to look at supply and demand also a valuable concept. Better to become a plumber that to get an undergraduate degree in art history.

Meh. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Would you really want a Darwin-like to switch out to the humanities because other scientists are relatively closer to the science peak relative to how far he is from the humanities peak?

Some things are more valuable than others. A society where everyone gloms onto focusing on X, and X is really *important* to society, is sometimes better than a society where everyone encourages the few who are those who are best at X focus on Y, because the gap between them and everyone is really not so great.

Specialization is for insects, as Heinlein said. Comparative advantage, and specialization into comparative advantage, is not always the greater good.

Alex's hypothesis is absolutely silly though, because students generally don't choose between math and reading, nor is PISA reading strongly predictive of skills in humanities, even English literature.

People choose based on subject strengths, and based on interests in people, things, physical activities, etc.

History, for instance, is not a "reading" field; it is a field for people who obsessed with the past and what actually happened.

Who can look at male computer nerds and suggest that they are in computing fields because they are relatively bad at reading? Who can look at male history nerds and believe that they studying that because they are relatively good at reading?

For instance - -

"The strongest correlations observed were for PISA maths and science. Across the entire table, the largest correlation was between PISA maths and maths GCSE (r = 0.777), whilst the next strongest was between PISA science and highest science grade (r = 0.760). ...

Correlations with PISA reading were slightly weaker, and there was no clear pattern to which subjects were most strongly correlated. Most notably, subjects that may have been expected to correlate with reading scores were actually relatively weak: English (r = 0.680) and English literature (r = 0.637) showed weaker correlations than highest science grade (r = 0.708), history (r = 0.696), core science (r = 0.692) and geography (r = 0.687). This indicates that, despite the association shown by previous analyses (DfE, 2017), PISA reading clearly measures very different skills to those assessed by GCSE English. In particular, this may relate to the fact that none of the PISA domains measure important skills such as essay
writing, that are both taught and assessed within GCSE English. Further consideration of these results and the way they relate to the nature of the items used in PISA reading will be given later.

It's unlikely that girls PISA reading scores explain specialisation outside of maths, because PISA reading does not predict a relative advantage in humanities subjects! (As anyone with half a braincell would know!). Reading score does not predict actual success in humanities relative to science...

STEM fields pay more than the humanities. Well, how the mighty have fallen, fallen as far as to compare the mighty STEM degree to a humanities degree. Alas, it’s true. Except for computer engineering, a STEM degree is not the guarantee of rich rewards. I’m reminded of our favorite tech billionaire, Peter Thiel, whose college degree was in philosophy.

the greek symbol for pagan is not a guarantee, indeed, nor a vexing object.

Correct. People (including commenters here) are putting too much emphasis on STEM and indeed on majors in general.

Most STEM fields don't pay well. The engineering fields do. So basically E pays but STM does not.

And people are forgetting that a person's earnings have more to do with the ability of the person than the major that they chose. Someone who's crappy at math isn't going to raise their wage by switching from an English major to mechanical engineering. Some of the wage differences between majors are due to differences in the graduates' abilities, not due to inherent differences in the majors' salaries.

The final reason for not over-focusing on majors is that most people are working in jobs that are unrelated to their majors anyway.

Maybe there is an issue with a supply glut. If you are importing visa workers for STEM fields, then wages will be affected. Or you might end up training your replacement.

Jeff Sessions' immigration primer for Congress before the Trump election had this to say:

“Recent data from the Census Bureau confirmed that a stunning 3 in 4 Americans with a STEM degree do not hold a job in a STEM field—that’s a pool of more than 11 million Americans with STEM qualifications who lack STEM employment. This is a constantly growing number: Rutgers Professor Hal Salzman, a top national expert on STEM labor markets, estimates that “U.S. colleges produce twice the number of STEM graduates annually as find jobs in those fields.” Many of the students, no doubt choosing to pursue STEM degrees in part due to bogus claims of STEM labor shortages, now find themselves with massive amounts of debt and no prospects of a good-paying job. Salzman goes on to report this shocking fact: “guest workers currently make up two-thirds of all new IT hires”— so even as half of Americans with STEM degrees can’t find STEM work, 2 in 3 new jobs in the information technology field are going to labor imported from abroad.”

Some of those might be women, but also men, exiting the field for personal preference reasons.

"data from the Census Bureau confirmed that a stunning 3 in 4 Americans with a STEM degree do not hold a job in a STEM field"

This is good quote, and underscores what I say above. Pundits and commenters including here on MR put way too much emphasis on majors. Most people are working in a field that is not directly related to their major.

None of which contradicts that good hard evidence that engineering majors have higher earnings (initially at least, by age 50 or so the differences may disappear) than other STEM majors who in turn usually have higher earnings than humanities majors.

But what you majored in is of secondary importance. What's of prime importance is how diligent, smart, committed, communicative, etc. etc. you are. People with mathematical aptitude and willingness to work hard can and do major in engineering. But the engineering major is not what gets them the high salaries, it's the aptitude and willingness to work hard.

PISA tests are done at 15-16 YO. No one is good at anything at that age because skills are still being under development.

Indeed, to be able to decide which skill further develop, it is necessary to have a "skill portfolio" from where to choose. At such young age the best you can do is expand your portfolio instead of forgoing unknown opportunities.

One wonders however, if men who follow reading as a path are treated with the same intentional viciousness designed to discourage them that women who follow math as a path are.

Or to put it differently, do men face the same intentional rigging that women did in this case? 'Women have outperformed their male counterparts in entrance examinations for a medical school in Japan that last year admitted rigging admission procedures to give men an unfair advantage.

Juntendo University in Tokyo said that of the 1,679 women who took its medical school entrance exam earlier this year, 139, or 8.28%, had passed. The pass rate among 2,202 male candidates was 7.72%.

It was the first time in seven years that the pass rate among women was higher than among men, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The university attributed the exam results to its decision to “abolish the unfair treatment of female applicants” after last year’s revelations.

Juntendo was one of several medical schools that were found to have manipulated exam results to give first-time male applicants an advantage over women and others who had previously failed the exam.

The dean of the medical school, Hiroyuki Daida, initially attempted to justify the practice, saying women matured faster than men and had better communication skills. “In some ways, this was a measure designed to help male applicants,” he told reporters.'

After all, the quoted dean was attempting to remove what he perceived as a female comparative advantage(s, to be precise).

In the U.S., medicine is dominated by women, like most other fields.

"the same intentional viciousness designed to discourage them that women who follow math as a path are"

What a different world you must live in. Where have you witnessed this viciousness? The best example you can find is from a different field, apparently. I think people are extraordinarily encouraging to women. Most men would love to have more women in math. If anything there is a deliberate discrimination in favor of women.

'Where have you witnessed this viciousness?'

Witnessed and been told about in computer science, physics, and mechanical engineering. But if I was to give personal examples, they would be dismissed, in much the same fashion as using a documented example where supposed female comparative advantage caused active discrimination to benefit men was dismissed.

'If anything there is a deliberate discrimination in favor of women.'

Amazing how that works in male dominated areas, isn't it? Which somehow remain male dominated, as if by random chance.

I can't believe no one would be convinced by a few anecdotes from some idiot internet troll. What's the world coming to?

On the one hand, I've never observed or experienced this kind of viciousness in the field. clockwork is citing Japan, which obviously is very different culturally than the US.
On the other hand, in the past few years, since the whole gamergate thing there does seem to be a new kind of viciousness from "mens" communities online. Not something I've ever observed in the workplace, but the recent emergence of misogynistic cultures online did comes as a surprise to me, so I might just be dense and not noticing how sexist everyone else has been all these years.

And those "witnesses" have been hypersensitive and underperforming women making baseless claims of harassment and discrimination.

The vast majority of sex discrimination complaints fail to even plead facts that establish a prima facie case. The public has been woefully deceived into believing that "I'm minority and something bad happened to me" is proof of discrimination. One must prove that you were treated differently BECAUSE of your race or sex, not merely in spite of it.

I've been saying for a long time that one of the examples of bad Japan culture is how they treat women.

"One wonders however, if men who follow reading as a path are treated with the same intentional viciousness designed to discourage them that women who follow math as a path are."

Are they in Europe? Have you considered this is very likely a Japanese thing?

In my computer science studies there was something like 5 girls for 300 boys. In my computer-enhanced high school we had 4 girls for 30 boys (and that was above average, most other years had 2). Nobody treated them viciously; just the opposite: they could get help very easily. None of them went to continue career in IT. A sizable portion of the boys did. 2 of the 4 teachers we had for computers were ladies.

I have several friends-women who are in research (biology (mostly female dominated), chemistry, physics). I have not heard anyone complain about being treated viciously. I have heard one guy who said that the whole 'equity' thing is unfair; he was selected for some special course; found out there are 50/50 males/females. Given that his field is female dominated, he asked if he would have been selected if he was female; the answer was 'No'.

AVOID STEM unless you want to take math courses needed to go into finance or be an actuary. Otherwise AVOID STEM. Engineering, physics, etc. etc AVOID AVOID AVOID. Extremely mediocre career paths oversold by guys like Tyler Cowen or Alex Tabarrock who - LOOK AT THAT don't have any STEM backgrounds themselves and avoided this crappy career path.

GT is the leading tech school down here, and I have many friends with STEM degrees from GT. It’s not the secure path often depicted. Many tech degrees are useful in an industrial economy, not the information economy we have today. We have many industrial and chemical plants down here, which have contracted as the economy shifted. One of my best buddies has worked at three different plants in just the past eight years due to contraction. He is a chemical engineer. His brother went the computer engineer route, back before it was the thing. He has been with the same company decades, but he is often on the road and away from family. Not, an easy life.

As smart as they are, I'm surprised at how many GT students and graduates I meet who chose their STEM majors without paying much attention to the job market. It's almost as bad as the people they sneer at with BAs in psychology, english, communications, and marketing.

Software and IT are still a hot job categories in Atlanta and other cities, and you don't need a difficult degree from GT to land one. You might not get fabulously rich, but one can make a good living and have plenty of options.

Plastics. There's a great future in plastics.

I have always loved reading and with practice I'm not an awful writer, but taking Honors English classes in high school really put me in my place in terms of my English skills. Those classes were a struggle, especially compared to how much better I did in math and science classes.

>Boys do not have a large absolute advantage in math.

This is false. Does that bother you? It should bother you.

I wonder if you eliminate the small number of the male outliers, are most boys pretty mediocre at math too?

Yes, boys are probably worse than girls if you chop off the top 1% of the bell curve. But it's also the reason why this study is extremely dumb.

Most boys aren't particularly good at science and math, but the boys that are best at it are very good at science and math. So judging from the average is very dumb approach.

It's stupid to compare the median girl vs boy. To be useful the study needs to compare the top 1% of girls vs boys. Boys and girls at the median don't make it through Engineering school or any STEM program in significant numbers.

What if the top 1% of boys and girls is not enough to satisfy the demand of engineers?

"What if the top 1% of boys and girls is not enough to satisfy the demand of engineers?"

There are currently about 1.6 million engineers employed in the US. That's roughly 0.5% of the population.

So, it works provided that the top 1% chooses engineering. Albeit, we know this is not the case. Therefore, STEM needs the not-so-bright because the top are scarce.

I don't want to fly in airplanes designed by not-so-bright engineers (hello Boeing), do you?

"Therefore, STEM needs the not-so-bright because the top are scarce."

Well sure, but the "not-so-bright are, in this case, coming from the top 10%.

I'm actually not sure what your point is. Clearly engineers are drawn from those with exceptional abilities in math and applied technology.

Are you disputing that fact?

If not, then it's rational to conclude that a study that compares median math abilities of men versus women, is not going to the correct data set to provide information on how men and women compare at the high end of the math ability spectrum.

It you want to reduce boys advantage in math, do what the College Board did years ago - change the math questions from spatial to verbal. Tada...

Curious: in what way did College Board change the math questions from spatial to verbal? I'm aware they got rid of the highly g-loaded analogies on the verbal section back in the 2000s but did not know about the math change.

And props to the people above who went to Georgia Tech! GREAT, UNDERRATED SCHOOL

This is only partially true. We need to remember standardized tests like PISA are designed for measuring average student body, not advanced group. Most test items are simply too easy for right tail students. Male students dominate the right tail, but normal tests won't be able to capture that. Also remember STEM is for the right tail, not around or just above average.

Why do we need to push girls into stem? If boys seem to have an advantage, why not just use traditional values to raise birth rates, thus producing more boys. There you go, the stock of mathematically talented individuals rises.

Why is it so hard to imagine that one gender could be more adapted to managing emotions/raising children, and another more adapted to other things. There was never any historical movement to get men into math, or to make men good at it. They just did it, because. Doesn't it get old that you have to try so very, very, very hard? Maybe there is a logic to flowing with nature, rather than fighting against it. Who knows, maybe nature isn't an evil an oppressive force out to get women...

I'm sure this plays a role, but I still think the bigger factor here is just preference: women are more interested in people, men are more interested in things. I think it's also important to remember that the social returns to a high income (in the form of enhanced status) are a lot bigger for men than they are for women, so men are pretty likely to already be operating under the rubric of "do what pays," and women may not follow that advice no matter how often it's repeated. Maybe the best idea would be to obsess a bit less about equality of outcome? Crazy, I know....

I like the point about returns to high income being greater for men.
I think you're onto something. Money enhances men's value in the dating market more than it does for women.

I don't know if it's that strong of an effect, because lots of women DO like money a lot though. It's not that they don't want big incomes.

As I've said before I think it is more cultural - women get the message as teenagers that math and science aren't "cool", and women are more sensitive to status relations so they shy away from math and science for that reason. It's ultimately dating market related - if you're good at math you're a nerd, which is perceived to be unattractive. But it's less that they don';t want to make money and more that they don't want men to think of them as unattractive.

The local girls I was most familiar with who were steered toward STEM some years ago were especially good at the logistical and time-management aspects of school. They weren't inclined to woolgather. They thus enjoyed an enormous comparative advantage over other girls - which was all that was needed - but over a good many boys as well. Four such girls I knew entered into engineering programs. One, her mother told me proudly, proved shiny at being the "spokesperson" and coordinator for group projects, and excellent at giving tours to other prospective students; next I was told that she figured out that the law, and talking, was really her passion and so she switched out of engineering. One enjoyed a full scholarship to a prestigious engineering-focused state college and had no trouble with her civil eng. coursework, though halfway through she realized she "enjoyed writing" and expressed to her parents a desire to change; however, she felt it would be flaky and so soldiered on, and has an excellent job in a field in which she seems to have no actual interest. I imagine when children come along she will be liberated and the investment society made in her career will come to a close: in the meantime, she's made some good money. I most often hear that she's considered very good at doing power point presentations to clients. Another completed her engineering degree, immediately got a high-paying job with huge petrochemical company, got a nice apartment, worked hard as usual - and quickly figured out she was not intended to sit in a boring industrial park tweaking ****** formulas. So the company subsidized her pursuit of a further degree in business, and she's moved on - still within the industry, but on the financial side. Doing extremely well. The last girl I am thinking of earned the highest meritocratic accolade; is now a post-doc; may go the farthest, science-career-wise, if a certain frailty can be balanced with a tendency to overwork. The thing I remember about her was, at the end of one year, she had taken such beautiful notes in a high school science class, that she had them printed and bound and presented to her teacher as a gift. It's honestly hard for me to imagine a boy doing that. Keep up, boys.

What all these girls share was less a particularly keen interest in either the natural world or technology, but basic smarts and sheer diligence.

Make no mistake, it is a good time to be a girl with those qualities.

The endless fussing, which started with making sure girls go to college in great numbers, which morphed into keeping score of what they major in, which morphed into concern over what they were good at in third grade, which has now morphed into a strict accounting of what they may have been complimented about in kindergarten - it very much reminds me of the urbanists' never-satisfied (unsatisfiable?) desire to micromanage who lives where, to the point that I expect them eventually to be zooming in to the block level and mandating that someone of a specific income and ethnicity must sleep in a particular bedroom.

My own niece, I am proud to report, has in the vocational way only so far mentioned becoming an instagram influencer, but explained that it's too much work.

"Make no mistake, it is a good time to be a girl with those qualities."

Until it's time to find a husband? For women to truly succeed, men must also succeed...

I took it as currently given that they men and women must assuredly succeed or hang separately.

My sadly non-STEM-informed vague impression is that the study of genetics may be moving away from the focus on the individual, and toward group, selection. The social sciences, I would think, remain wedded to radical individualism. Unless, of course, the "set of all women" can be considered a group in the sense that other human groups are. Perhaps so, I don't read sci-fi. I mean to, though. I'd like to become a believer.

Wow Peri, throw in a few weddings, funerals and a little hanky-panky and you may have yourself a novel there, with big-screen options

It doesn't hurt that Peri seems to be a gifted writer, too.

This paragraph should be saved and inserted into half the political posts:
"The endless fussing, which started with making sure girls go to college in great numbers, which morphed into keeping score of what they major in, which morphed into concern over what they were good at in third grade, which has now morphed into a strict accounting of what they may have been complimented about in kindergarten - it very much reminds me of the urbanists' never-satisfied (unsatisfiable?) desire to micromanage who lives where, to the point that I expect them eventually to be zooming in to the block level and mandating that someone of a specific income and ethnicity must sleep in a particular bedroom."

FWIW, my 26 year old son reports that his females friends are starting to look for the "exit ramp".

Why? The rat race sucks.

Why does society use "math" and "reading" as the primary comparative categories? There are lots of different ways to categorize knowledge, and I'm not sure why society has chosen to split things up along these lines. It seems to be that reading/writing ability, while important, is just not a large enough field to compare to math/science. Beyond high school level, few people really need to study "reading" (i.e. English lit). But college level math is key to all of the physical sciences. So splitting up the knowledge base in this way, and emphasizing these things as two equally valuable and contrasting domains of expertise is really misleading to people. High level skills in "Reading" (including writing I assume) is important in law and politics, but a lot of that is unproductive labor - people maneuvering for status or advantage in the market. The productive parts of our economy depend far more upon advanced math/science expertise.

A lot of people are going to say well, most people can get by with high school level math. But you can say the same about reading - most people , even advanced scientists, can get by with high school level reading. All people really need is a basic level of ability to communicate, beyond which we can't advance much. By contrast, math/science and the technology based on it is constantly progressing - it's a far larger and more productive field of endeavor.

What we should really be doing is split things up along physical/biological/social science lines, and teach reading as a necessary skill for all of them. So them people don't get this idea that you specialize in either "reading" or "math". You specialize in physics, or biology, or economics. And then from there, you progress into physics/engineering, biology/pre-med, or social sciences/law. Or something to that effect. Maybe have a generic "liberal arts" category for everyone that doesn't specialize in a "science", but don't holds it up as an equal like the math/reading dichotomy.

Donald Trump was a math wizard, which explains why he was so good in finance, and to this day, is willing to share his wizards with us in macro and international economics.

Math wizards are people who practice numerology, so you're correct.

"Why does society use "math" and "reading" as the primary comparative categories?"

Organization should be a category. It's critical to many if not most high productivity occupations.

It would probably be a good idea to teach organizational skills in grade school, though I don't think it deserves it's own category on par with math.

Like in grade 3, we had "penmanship", which taught cursive handwriting. But it was just for one semester. You could teach "organizing things" to kindergartners by making them sort things into buckets and put them away. And you could tech "time management" to 8th graders. And maybe "organizing a group" as a senior level high school class. That might be an interesting lead-in into management.

On second thought, maybe you're right. +1 for creative thinking about different ways of categorizing types of knowledge.

As a male,

I don't understand this post,


If you put it into an equation,

I would.

What I think is interesting is that the post does not look at the other side of the equation: men perform poorly in reading comprehension or low reading comprehension by males.

My wife's doctor doesn't do math, and reads journals to stay informed in the specialty.

What does this say?

My wife's specialty doctor is rated very highly above others in the field and is

A female.

Proving that women are as good as men in math seems to be a huge priority by the funded researchatariate recently. I have a feeling that these studies will go down in history the way the big blizzard of "vitamin C cures the common cold" papers did in the 1970s before the adult supervision came in and did replication attempts. They want it so bad to be true. The researchers at this point are self selecting, and there is massive publication bias.

Things to look at:

-- Nobody needs an average math person. Cash registers now do the work that average match people once did. You need to look at the right tail and compare men and women there. Any study that uses secondary school classroom students is suspect.

-- You need to test creative math, not cookbook math/formula-style math solutions, nor school class grades. Boys don't turn in their homework; girls study the recipe-style solutions but choke on novel problems.

-- Men and women do have different means on the various IQ subtests, but men do better on math-related subtests than women (not the same as women, but better). IQ test are normalized to hide this. Richard Lynn (yeah, I know) has written about this after speaking with the designers of major tests. Men also have greater variance than women, so on the right tail there are many more men than women.


The obsession with issue is amazing. Women can do anything they want. They can vote, work, have babies, run for president, serve in the House and Senate, fly jets, go to graduate school, become a professor, be an astronaut, a county sheriff, a chief of police, the captain of the fire department, or a smoke jumper.

What's the big beef?

Yes, things are still not equal - women live longer than men all across the planet.

I call that inequality.

Who's working on this?

Please don't say the WHO! :)

File this under "Studies That Can be Soundly Rejected After a Cursory Examination."

The male dominated mathematical fields also require strong english skills, and those students score well on the english portion of standardized tests, albeit perhaps lower than their math score or lower than females. While this is consistent with the comparative advantage hypothesis, it doesn't support the "boys are so bad at english" conclusion.

The males who have low english scores tend to not pursue mathematics careers either!

There is also a disconnect between scores and abilities. Boredom and interest might have a much larger effect on scores and careers than gender, even if those are correlated with gender.

Mathematics IS language and logic. Any logical phrase in english can be represented in math. What cannot be represented in math is the artistic expression of language, driven largely by emotion rather than reason. For millenia, men excelled in these fields. They literally wrote the books.

There are social dynamics at play, but I dont believe that men are mentally deficient at english or women at math.

Everyone is already tacitly aware of "what pays."

Ask 16 year olds to rank salaries by profession and I expect they will do a damned good job, absent propaganda effects (e.g. teachers are underpaid).

Also, dont forget the major explanatory factors in wage differences. Women largely CHOOSE lower paying careers for the non pecuniary benefits. These choices are highly correlated with non mathematical careers.

"...absent propaganda effects (e.g. teachers are underpaid)."

Well there is a kernel of truth to the "teachers are underpaid", but it's because teachers salaries are relatively low compared to their total compensation and entry level teachers salaries are kept artificially low so that older teachers can be paid better.

This is directly from the US Dept of Education:

"The present structure of the teacher compensation package is “back-loaded,” or organized to reward career service; this is a practice that comes at the expense of entry level salary, which is artificially depressed in order to afford the total compensation packages of more senior teachers. "

Perhaps pay and benefits are back loaded, but that claim requires proof AND must be distinguished from every other career choice.

If backloaded, that is a CHOICE by labor unions similar to the seniority systems theyve set up in every other union shop, a ponzi scheme of benefits. Unions often get people "promoted" into sweeping the shop floor. In schools they are promoted to librarian and paid even more.

When normalized over 12 months, teachers clearly are overpaid even among starting salaries. True they might have difficulty filling their free summers with equal paying work, but that is not dispositive. They get their benefits year round so their summer income doesnt need to match their school year income. Their pay gets even more obscene looking at their daily hours.

The fact they are unionized to begin with shouts that their pay exceeds their marginal revenue product. Not even necessary to look at their wages to know this.

Teachers are a dime a dozen. Easily replaced by anyone with a college degree. They should be called "presenters," not teachers. The quality of their output pretty much explains how bad they are.

Teachers have among the lowest SAT scores, lowest GREs, most inflated college grades, and easiest PhDs by far. They frequently get caught boosting pay with diploma mill degrees.

My wife never had a day of teacher education and does a stellar job home schooling. I never had a day of teacher education and I've been a highly rated adjunct professor for more than a decade.

Tiger moms routinely enroll their kids in after school programs because they're not challenged enough during the day.

"'When normalized over 12 months, teachers clearly are overpaid even among starting salaries. "

"The national average starting teacher salary is $38,617,..."

"In fact, the average salary for college graduates is $47,000. "

Adjusting for a 10 month teaching year: $38,617 * 12/10 = $46,340.

So technically speaking, teacher starting salaries are very close to the average of college graduates. And of course, teachers get higher than normal benefits.

So, I'll agree that you are correct. Teachers being underpaid is primarily propaganda. Particularly when you look at the relatively low requirements to get a BA in Education.

He stays home to read a good book. She can go STEM about and pay the bills.

Come on that's completely ridiculous!

A well rounded male is going to read, watch TV and play some video games. And take out the trash.

He later went to college in Oregon at a school known for teaching people how to make video games.

After two years of vectors, matrices, etc. he returned home and continued his education.

Today, he is pursuing his career in video games

By getting an Masters in Fine Arts degree
Because he wants to invent and write video game content and stories.

He said that's where the money is.

This was in reply to my post below.

Sorry, didn't read the instructions carefully enough.

What motivates boys to do math?

One of my neighbors sons was very interested in math and computers


He wanted to make

Video Games.

He later went to college in Oregon at a school known for teaching people how to make video games.

After two years of vectors, matrices, etc. he returned home and continued his education.

Today, he is pursuing his career in video games

By getting an Masters in Fine Arts degree
Because he wants to invent and write video game content and stories.

He said that's where the money is.

No way. Sure, the market is increasing, but the business itself is becoming ever riskier. Superstar games make oodles of cash, while the majority never break even, and studios hire and fire on a project phase basis. Therefore, if you are not some superstar employee, you do not get job security in the field, unless you are in Montreal or other gaming cities with plenty of studios to pick up the layoffs from other studios, because they are in different phases of development.

Plenty of my friends (with different backgrounds - one studied Letters, another chemistry etc) work in the business in Eastern Europe. They tell me stories about Western studios, because the big ticket games are increasingly collaboration between many teams across the world, so they have exposure to things as they really are.

Also, I am a gamer, not that it matters much.

Why should women go into fields requiring math skills when there is hostility to women in that profession?

From today's WSJ:

"The American Economic Association is implementing new rules forbidding universities and other employers from interviewing thousands of candidates in hotel rooms during the group’s annual conference. It is part of an effort to shift what former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the association’s current president, has called the profession’s “reputation for hostility toward women and minorities.”"

The career advice I got as a HS student was (1) join the navy, and (2) learn Russian. I joined a rock band instead. Not sure I made the right choice.

So men, being quite useless in bearing children as compared with women, have a comparative advantage in non-child-bearing fields.

So following that principle, men should do all the career work and women should stay at home and do all the child rearing... hmmm...

This is the kind of study that is completely useless because they don't explain the differences. Why are female better at reading? What if it's because they prefer reading? What if male find more meaning in working with machine? What about telling the people to do what they prefer instead of what give them a better pay? And then explain the population that if you prefer doing a job that pays less that doesn't mean you're less happy or less privileged as long as the pay is good enough.

I think the problem here is the mentality particularly in the USA to chase high paying job because there is no or weak social security. Sad story.

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