Re: PSYCH: Women and Math

Date: Mon Mar 12 2001 - 06:20:07 MST

On March 10, 2001 Gerhard Haak wrote:

>> Based on my experience, I don't think "very few" is justified, but
>> a smaller percentage than one would expect if the kind of social and
>> mobility you're discussing were randomly distributed.
>Based on a (very) brief investigation with the help of Google
>indicated that, in general (and across all occupations) ~70% of children
>inherit the social
>class of their parents. This leaves 30% to move either up or down.
>Also note that the small amount of social mobility (I would rate 30% to
>small -
>you may not :)

Perhaps this is an example of the old “glass is half-empty/half-full”
phenomenon. Taking a historical view that reaches back just a couple of
hundred years, a figure as high as 30% seems to me to represent a fairly
significant advance over any pre-modern society of which I am aware. I
certainly don’t mean to be Panglossian about this question: We can and should
do better. Ultimately, the question is what price we are prepared to pay to
increase social mobility. I would suggest that the programs of the
Romantic/Socialist movements of the past 200 years have made the deal too
dear to values of individual autonomy and dignity that underlie a conception
of civil society that is consonant with the values we share here. On the
other hand, I believe that working to make opportunity for individual
achievement regardless of family economic background is perfectly consistent
with those values. Thus my original observation that many of us have come to
realize that “diversity” is actually a profit-maximizing institutional
value, when it is not used as a banner under which to corrode standards of

 .. ) is not at odd with your estimate of 50% - assuming that
>there are
>larger numbers 'down below' means that a small percentage coming from there
>can have
>a large impact on the upper echelon.

That’s true as a matter of the simple numbers, as you point out, which is one
factor that gives me hope for continuing progress toward increased social
mobility that does not undermine important notions of individual autonomy.
Once you begin to break down “irrational” barriers to upward social
mobility, one can look forward to a cascading effect as more and more
talented people move upward into positions of wealth and power. An important
question is whether there are social-structural means available for those who
profit from such openness in the early stages to “pull up the ladder”, which
has been the case in all previous historical periods in which social mobility
has occurred. Institutions focusing on basic individual autonomy and dignity
OUGHT to tend to combat this natural tendency.

>> As it turns out, in
>> the legal profession in the US, the competition for talent is so intense
>> the economic or educational background of a candidate's parents per se
>> irrelevant to hiring and promotion decisions. The "great filter" is the
>> candidate's own academic performance and personality. Because of the
>> for diversity in large firms like mine (something we've developed because
>> we've come to realize that diversity is an element of creativity in our
>> culture", which is an economic value that goes straight to our bottom
>> qualified candidates from traditionally "disadvantaged" backgrounds end
>> having somewhat greater opportunities than those who come from
>> family backgrounds.
>I seriously doubt, though, whether these advantages will outweigh the
>disadvantages that
>poorer children have. I don't think anybody here will dispute the fact
>there is a higher
>correlation between your parents' income and your income than there is
>between iq and your

I do agree with your observation. The hard questions come when we ask what
we should do in response to this realization. A fair and just society ought
to react to this truth by working to lower the cost of education and
increasing the over-all cultural value placed on education and meaningful
achievement. We can certainly see the impact that such social values have in
the community of Asian immigrants in the US, who have a very high degree of
inter-generational social mobility.

>>I think it would be nice to develop ways for folks to be able to both do
>science and
>> make more money. The recent trend toward creating university
>> vehicles that allow academic scientists to reap more economic rewards
>their work
>> is a very good trend, IMO.
>Hmmmm - I haven't heard about this. I'm assuming this is a recent American
>development. Do you have any addresses I can check out?

It is a relatively recent development here, but has gained significant
momentum in the last 10 years. Basically every major university now has one
or more of such vehicles. Here’s an article critical of this development
(although it focuses mainly on other aspects of commercialization of
university research):

I had trouble finding general information in a quick search because of the
lack of general terms addressing the phenomenon. Some universities have a
single “privatization and research entrepreneurship” arm that reaches across
departmental lines, while others have undertaken this sort of thing on a
group-by-group basis. I would suggest looking into the areas you’re
interested in and talking with US researchers in that field to get a feel for
how it works.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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