Getting the Message

“Don’t major in history or the social sciences.” That’s what many members of the college-bound younger generation hear, alongside such advice as “don’t do drugs” and “don’t get a girl pregnant.”

We seem to be getting the message. The College Board asks students who take the SAT what their intended major is. In 1995, 11 percent said history or one of the social sciences. In 2013, 3 percent did.

People change their minds before they get to college, and they change their majors once they’re in college. In terms of what people actually graduate with a degree in, the decline has been much more modest. Not everyone is smart enough to be an engineer.

References

Table 128. Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_128.asp

2013 College-Bound Seniors Total Group Profile Report, College Boardhttp://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/research/2013/TotalGroup-2013.pdf

Quoctrung Bui, What’s Your Major? 4 Decades Of College Degrees, In 1 Graph, NPR, May 9 2014 http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/05/09/310114739/whats-your-major-four-decades-of-college-degrees-in-1-graph

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2 Responses to Getting the Message

  1. Steve Sailer says:

    I was told that in 1976 that 75% of Rice U. students entered intending to major in a STEM field (it was called S-E back then), but only 50% succeeded in graduating in one.

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  2. Although I spend most of my time thinking about trends in society, how to fix society’s problem, and reading blogs like your’s and Steve Sailer’s I just graduated from an elite university with a degree in mechanical engineering. There are a few reasons why I didn’t major in a subject like sociology, demography or social psychology. First, my parents, teachers and other adults pushed me toward STEM because it’s a “good degree” and “you pursue anything you want” once you have a degree in engineering. What it takes to get into an elite school In this day and age is getting nearly perfect grades while accomplishing numerous high-status extra-curricular activities. Both of these require suppressing your own volitions and not really thinking for yourself. Therefore, many kids get pressured into engineering (at least when they enter school). Second, there is a stereotype that social science majors are stupid and that engineering and science majors are smart. A sociology professor once admitted to me that there is a bimodal distribution of intelligence amongst his students, with the future Pinkers and Chomskies on one side and the gender theorists and jocks on the other. The high concentration of students from the latter category gives the impression that Psych, Sosh, and Anthro are all lightweight subjects when that’s not entirely the case. A final reason, which I was not aware of at the time, but has become clear to me now – is that these fields are dominated by left-leaning ideologues. Someone with even a moderate form of Sailer’s political leanings would get eaten alive in college courses taught by these professors. This has been brought to light by Jonathan Haidt. In engineering, the professors are much more pragmatic and give far less of a shit about what your politics are, even though the majority of them happen to be liberal anyhow. Politics just don’t play that big of a role in the content of engineering or other science courses. You never hear about a chemical engineering course getting shut down for causing climate change or a mechanical engineering course for promoting the military industrial complex. A interesting study to compliment the data you’ve provided would be to look at the undergraduate majors of people pursuing graduate degrees, and see whether the percentage of people who have switched disciplines (Hard Science to Social Science rather than Anthro to Sociology), has changed over time. I would predict the answer is yes, and in the direction of more undergrad STEM majors getting PhD’s in the social sciences.

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