Thursday, June 11, 2009

Physics, dating, and the elusive house-husband

To continue the vein of yesterday, where we explored the social dynamics of academia and the nearly unique social role of physicists outside of academia (a role they don't exactly seek, usually), today I'd like to write a little about another side of the "science ladder."

Dating. One of my female physics professors once told our class that the quickest way to get rid of a guy in a bar was to mention that she was a physics student. That wouldn't work on other physics people, of course, and I don't think it works on women, either. I didn't notice the same phenomenon as a man; while many male physics majors are socially awkward, the fact that they are interested in physics doesn't cast aspersions on their manliness, or make them less appealing.

I really don't think this strange aversion applies to anything other than the traditional heterosexual dating field in that one particular direction: When a woman is highly educated, and especially in a mathematically intensive field, men find it intimidating. A couple decades of sitcoms and movies starring dumb-as-rocks male lead roles paired with more educated female lead roles may have eroded this a little, which make me wonder just how strong a phenonemon this used to be.

The growing educational gender gap between men and women (women are becoming more educated than men) may bury it completely, eventually; it's only a few fields, and mainly the doctoral level, that we still see a gender imbalance favoring males, but in the mean time, I can't help but wonder if this is one of the factors that helps drive women away from physics and mathematics.

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