THE BBC has found a new addition to the long list of non-problems we are endlessly encouraged to care about. Last week it explored why so few women are patent holders.
Their research has uncovered the apparently outrageous fact that female inventors account for just under 13 per cent of patent applications globally. One woman for every seven men. We’ll only be able to cheer the BBC reports in 2070 which is the time it will take for us to reach gender parity in the creation of patents if we keep going at current rates.
But will we get there? And more importantly, if we actually do, should we cheer? There are reasons to believe that it would be rather bad news for women. They take us back to the reasons why there are fewer female than male patent holders in the first place.
The BBC is content to explain it thus: that ‘researchers’ attribute the gap to a lack of women working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Likewise Penny Gilbert, a partner at the intellectual property law firm Powell & Gilbert, puts it down to ‘simply a pipeline issue’, producing the time-worn argument that ‘if we want to see more women filing patents, then we need to see more women taking up STEM subjects at university and going on to careers in research’.
But what these explanations never go into is the deeper ‘why?’ Why, for example, are there fewer women taking STEM despite the encouragement they get to do so? Why should we want to see more women filing patents? To what end?
Other research, not considered by the BBC or Ms Gilbert apparently, points to a different reality, that the more socially liberal and ‘free’ a country is, the more men and women make different choices in how they live. In particular, a recent paper with this as its stark title, ‘The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM’ shows that the more ‘gender equality’ you have between men and women, the fewer women you have pursuing careers in STEM.
What then is the explanation given for this apparent paradox, for ‘the tendency for nations that have traditionally less gender equality to have more women in science and technology than their gender-progressive counterparts do?’
Why is the science gender gap so wide in liberated America, where women are free and taught to do what they want, while, ‘in Algeria, 41 per cent of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math . . . are female’, a country where employment discrimination against women is rife.
The paper argues that it has little to do with aptitude but much to do with freedom of choice. Women in countries with lower gender equality seek the clearest possible path to financial freedom and often ‘that path leads through STEM professions’. Women in countries with higher gender equality are freer to pursue the careers and make the choices they want to make: ‘The countries that empower women also empower them, indirectly, to pick whatever career they’d enjoy most and be best at.’
That of course applies to all life choices, such as being at home with children, as TCW has long argued.
It concludes: ‘The upshot of this research is neither especially feminist nor especially sad: It’s not that gender equality discourages girls from pursuing science. It’s that it allows them not to if they’re not interested.’
What becomes apparent is that the end being pursued is simply statistical parity, nothing more. Not well-being, or freedom or opportunity for women. Rather, statistical parity.
Which takes us back to the BBC’s supposed patents gender problem. You may be able to guess now which country has the highest share of women making patent applications. The answer is Russia. Followed not far behind, at fourth place on the list, by China.
As ever, in the West, we are faced with choices. As a society we can either pursue policies that allow women to follow their interests and their passions. Or we can attempt to socially engineer their choices to make the statistics look good. The latter is to follow the path of a university in Australia which is dropping entry grades for young women to persuade more of them into STEM.
Apart from the obvious downsides of this positive discrimination, we might spare a thought for the young women who’d find themselves going into STEM thanks to the lower entry bar. Without such social engineering might they not choose different career and life paths? Who will know if they are more or less happy? Does anyone care? Perhaps finding themselves unhappy with their career choices, they’ll quit early and have babies.
Our media and our government, for all their apparent concern for ‘mental health’, no longer seem interested in creating an environment where girls and women can make their own decisions and follow their own passions. They’d rather we do whatever it takes to make the statistics tie up and the spreadsheets tally.
The stats will look good, even if we’re less happy.