I think that its unclear if self-selection is due to pure interest, and “nature” versus choosing to pursue a path that you identify with. Humans are social creatures. We want to fit in and, therefore we choose to be among people that are similar to ourselves. This whole fitting in thing and what that means happens at different stages.
- As a kid: The way you see yourself, is modeled after how you see other people that are similar to yourself. Therefore, a girl that may have been interested in math as a kid, may not end up pursuing it because it doesn’t even occur to them. Instead, they end up pursuing a career similar to careers of adult women that they know. Additionally, teachers and parents have their own biased perspectives that influence child development. Teachers and parents that think their child is good at math effectively causes their child to become better at math. If parents/teachers already think boys are better at math, then they will become better at math. This is a well studied phenomenon. — — Rebuttal to your impending comment, I can hear you saying: “But there are still more women in care-giving professions in the first place! Thats how this whole thing got started! Therefore my point remains the same.” My response to that is, yes I agree this gender distribution had to come from somewhere, and likely there are real preferences related to care-giving etc. If we take your point to be true (a: that there are real preferences), and we also take my first point to be true (b: that children pursue careers related to what they are exposed to), and my second point to be true (c: that children become good at is a result of societal perceptions), then we really cannot assign weights to either a, b or c in their ability to predict the outcome (career choice). Additionally, there could be some sort of feedback loop between a, b and c that allows for this stable system to exist. So, my guess is that our natural preferences are less divergent than some would like to believe, and our exposure to society accounts for the difference. I believe that there are many other little girls out there that are interested in math and more technical subjects, but the potential is not realized due to lack of adult encouragement AND also that girls don’t see themselves as engineers because they don’t know any female engineers. There are probably other reasons too.
- As a young adult (Late high school, early college): For the girls that did end up maintaining and developing their interest in technical subjects; they begin to realize they are the only girl in the room. None of their friends are in their classes, they feel isolated and different. None of their teachers are women (especially in college). Maybe these girls feel like the boys in their classes or professors are treating them like they are dumber than everyone else. Maybe they feel intimidated. This is enough for some girl to say you know what, f*** it, I will just major in biology (or some other STEM subject that has more women), or maybe even … a social science. I think that men tend to downplay this feeling of social isolation. It is easy for someone who has never had to experience it, or for someone that wants to continue to frame things in the narrative they are comfortable with.
- As an adult (in the work place): Basically all of the same from (2) applies here. It sucks to be the only woman when all the dudes are talking about things that you don’t relate to. You end up spending most of your time at work, and it also feels isolating when you don’t work with anyone similar to you. I am saying all of this assuming the woman has not experienced work place sexism or sexual harassment. Factor in that, and its no wonder that male-dominated careers push women away.
Like I said before, it is easy to continue to frame things in the narrative that you are comfortable with, even though you have never experienced any of it yourself. As a female who has always been the representative female in the room (from undergrad all the way to the work place), I can tell you that these things are indeed a struggle. I hope that you and other men can rationally consider what I am saying and acknowledge that you haven’t had our experience, and maybe you should listen a bit more and ask more questions instead of writing a defensive response. You have probably been regurgitating this type of response for the past 10 years, without trying to understand someone else’s experience. However, maybe if you thought about it a bit more, you might realize there is more to it, and your reasoning is not impermeable.