Ever since I was a wee Mad Biologist, I’ve been told by Very Senior People that ‘in five years, there’s going to be a massive wave a retirement of older faculty.’ This, in my mind, ranks up there with the Friedman Unit (in the next six months, we’ll know if we have to leave Iraq, and six months later, we need another six months to know this), and the Samuelson Unit (the length of time to the ULTIMATE DOOOMMM!!! of Social Security is always 30-38 years from the time of prediction). Consequently, we will have a ‘science gap’ since not enough U.S. students know TEH SCIENTISMZ!!, even though the supply of students has remained steady for the last thirty years.
So, a couple months ago (I’m a little behind), this post from the Science Insider about this paper (pdf) argued that the non-existent ‘science gap’ is due to something other than educational failure of the STEM pipeline. What might that possibly be?
However, the highest-performing students in the pipeline are opting out of science and engineering in greater numbers than in the past, suggesting that the threat to American economic competitiveness comes not from inadequate science training in school and college but from a lack incentives that would make science and technology careers attractive.
You don’t say? But there’s nothing like wage suppression, is there? (boldface mine; italics original)
The researchers–led by Lowell and Harold Salzman, a sociologist at the Urban Institute and Rutgers University, New Brunswick–argue that boosting the STEM pipeline may end up hurting the United States in the long-term.
This happens, they say, by depressing wages in S&T fields and turning potential science and technology innovators into management professionals and hedge fund managers.
The way to promote US competitiveness in STEM fields is to “put more emphasis on the demand side,” says Lowell, noting that U.S. colleges and universities produce three times more STEM graduates every year than the number of STEM jobs available. Cranking out even more STEM graduates, he says, does not give corporations any incentive to boost wages for STEM jobs, which would be one way to retain the highest-performing students in STEM….
The authors say those findings square with anecdotal evidence of STEM graduates being drawn to careers in management and finance careers starting in the early 1990s. “Maybe the competition rather than being with the East,” Salzman says, referring to emerging economic powers like India and China, “is between different sectors of industry; with Wall Street.”
You’ll be shocked to learn that policies which lower science-related wages haven’t been extensively studied–I know I am (italics mine):
The conversation about the STEM gap “hasn’t been grounded in a sufficient body of evidence,” Salzman says. Michael Teitelbaum of the Sloan Foundation, which funded the study, adds that claims of shortage are “often issued by parties of interest” such as employer associations. In the past, some U.S. businesses have been accused of using the shortage argument to justify outsourcing and hiring of foreign workers.
Like many other things in life, you get what you pay for (if you’re lucky). As long as financial ‘engineering’ is more lucrative than actual engineering (and other disciplines)–both in terms of pre- and post-tax salary–and has better job security, many students, particularly when too many graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, will choose to do something other than science.
Until we create more science-related opportunities, in the private, public, and non-profit sectors, we are just creating an over-qualified, underpaid workforce.