Monday, October 6, 2008

Depressing Survey About Teen Girls' Aspirations

A new survey of the career aspirations of British girls aged 13-18 done by the organization New Outlooks in Science and Engineering found that the majority picked beauty over brains. While 32% of those surveyed were interested in becoming a fashion model, 29% were interested in being an actress, and 20% were interested in being a beautician, only 14% were interested in becoming a scientist, and a mere 4% were interested in becoming an engineer (note: girls were permitted to select more than one answer).

I am saddened but not surprised at these results. Pop culture very much values style over substance, particularly when it comes to women. Female celebrities popular among teen girls such as Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, the actresses on The Hills, and so on often give the appearance of vacuousness (even if they may actually be not quite as dumb as their public personas would indicate). Television portrayals of women tend more towards the walking clothes hangers of America's Next Top Model than the braininess of Dr. Amita Ramanujan on Numb3rs. Far more teens could likely name last year's American Idol winner (Jordin Sparks) than could name either the current Secretary of State or the female member of the U.S. Supreme Court (Condoleeza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, respectively).

Given that we are now three-and-a-half decades past the landmark passage of Title IX, I find this state of affairs very depressing. Today's girls are so lucky that they do not face the barriers to participation in scientific and technical fields that stood in the path of previous generations of women. True, more still needs to be done to allow for a better work-life balance in scientific and technical careers (an issue that disproportionately affects women although it's becoming important to an increasing number of men as well). But the main thing today keeping girls from becoming scientists and engineers is themselves.

So long as girls go for glamor over contributing to the betterment of society, we're likely to see a continuation of the gender gap in the sciences and engineering. And that's really a shame :-(


The Reluctant Homeschooler said...

When my kids were in public elementary school, they filled in a sheet about favorites (favorite food, color, etc.) and what they wanted to be when they grew up. As you state, the media has so brainwashed our children into aspiring to be actors and actresses, rock singers, baseball or football players that the "regular" jobs that most people do as adults (engineers, carpenters, truck drivers, and the full range of jobs out there) are rarely mentioned! Growing up, I wanted to be an entomologist, then a paleontologist. (I'm a technical writer, though.) Today's kids probably don't know what entomologists or paleontologists are! Sadly, if your goal is to be a rock star, you will most likely fail... (I completed my B.S. in Biology, then another B.S. in Photography before taking a job writing about photography - that's how I ended up a technical writer.)

Kirsten said...

I think, though, that you're missing something.
The full list is :
"The top 10 career choices in full

Note: More than one choice was allowed

Model: 32%
Actress: 29%
Teacher: 28%
Lawyer: 24%
Journalist: 24%
Musician: 20%
Doctor: 20%
Beautician/Hairdresser: 20%
Scientist: 14%
Housewife: 12%
Engineer: 4%"

Teacher, lawyer, journalist are all reasonably intellectual career fields. Doctor even uses science. And there is a huge demand for these jobs that is proportional to the population.

There aren't that many jobs for scientists. There are more for engineers, so it would be ideal if those two numbers were reversed. But the employment for chemists, for example, correlates directly with the amount of chemical manufacturing in the country. As the US de-industrializes, those fields become less and less in demand.

I am surprised that computer programmer doesn't appear on the list.

Crimson Wife said...

I did not mention the other choices on the list because they weren't relevant to the point I was trying to make. You're absolutely right in that law, teaching, journalism, etc. are fine careers that require intelligence.

I do have to disagree with you about career opportunities for scientists. While the academic job market is tough, there is a huge demand for them in industry. The biotech firms in my area can't find even remotely enough qualified people for all their openings. They're now partnering with the local community colleges to start training programs to help meet the demand.

Kirsten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirsten said...

I should move :-(. So should a lot of people I know, :-(.

The point of the community college partnerships is to train cheap technicians. Or to get money from governments who are trying to move people into jobs. At least in this area, the demand for the graduates is less than the supply.

Crimson Wife said...

I just looked up the median earnings for a biotech manufacturing worker in my area and it's $29/hr. That's pretty darn good for a field that only requires a 2 yr degree. It's more than my DH made as a captain in the Army...