A big reason America is falling behind other countries in science and math is that we have effectively written off a huge chunk of our population as uninterested in those fields or incapable of succeeding in them.
Women make up nearly half the work force but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs,according to the Census Bureau. Blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the work force but hold 7 percent of those positions. There is no question that women and minorities have made progress in science and math in the last several decades, but their gains have been slow and halting. And in the fast-growing field of computer science, women’s representation has actually declined in the last 20 years, while minorities have made relatively small gains.
These jobs come with above-average pay and offer workers a wide choice of professions. Opening them to women and minorities would help reduce corrosive income inequality between whites and other groups, and would narrow the gender gap in wages. Improving the representation of women and minorities would also enrich American scientific research and development, because they will add a different perspective to workplaces currently dominated by white and Asian men.
Moreover, the people who do well in these professions will be much more likely to lead the industry in the future and make decisions that affect thousands of workers and customers. Many technology companies, including Twitter until recently, have no women on their board of directors, and few blacks and Hispanics in senior management roles, in part because too few girls and minorities are becoming programmers and engineers.
What’s Holding Them Back
The biggest career disadvantage faced by many lower-income blacks and Hispanics is their limited access to a good education. Compared with upper-income Americans, a greater percentage are raised by parents who have not gone to college or graduated from high school, and more grow up with single parents who do not have the time or resources to enrich their children’s education. Moreover, a smaller percentage of minority children attend enriching prekindergarten programs, which studies have shown aids the development of cognitive and analytical skills that are needed to do well in science and math. A recent study showed that nearly half of Hispanic 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any preschool classes. While more than 60 percent of black 4-year-olds are enrolled, most of them are in programs of low or mediocre quality.
Schools that serve minority and lower-income neighborhoods tend to employ teachers with fewer years of experience and less specialized training in math and science than schools in white and upper-income neighborhoods, according to a 2012 National Science Foundationreport. By contrast, developed nations like Germany, South Korea and Belgium tend to devote more resources like teachers to schools that serve their most disadvantaged students than on schools that serve advantaged children, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.