Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


I was just reading this article by journalist Conor Friedersdorf, complaining about how Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is being unfairly treated by journalists, who try to twist his subtle anti-feminist arguments into crude anti-feminist slurs. He certainly has a point. But then one comes to comments like this

[Interviewer]: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences––you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

20 to 1? That seems really high. For nurses and for engineers. So I decided to do something rude, and check the numbers. For nurses, I found these statistics. There’s a lot of variation in Scandinavia. In Denmark it seems like about 20:1 female to male. But in Norway it’s 9:1. In Iceland it’s 100:1. Looking further afield, in Israel and Italy 20% of nurses are male. And in the Netherlands nearly 25%. This does not look like an ineradicable difference to me. It looks like path dependence and social context.

What about engineers? Here Peterson is, to use the technical term, talking out of his ass. There is no country in the EU with such an extreme gender imbalance for engineers: The most extreme is the UK, with about a 10:1 male to female ratio. In Sweden it’s 3:1, in Norway 4:1, and in Denmark 5:1. In Latvia the fraction of female engineers is up to 30%.

I think, if you want to make provocative “I’m just trying to be rational here” public arguments, you kind of have an obligation not to make up your supporting facts.

Comments on: "Male nurses and politically incorrect comments on gender" (2)

  1. This is extremely biased. Without even mentioning the cherry-picked data, you did not even quote Jordan Peterson verbatim. He said (at around the 13:45 mark) that, “…Scandinavia it’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that, it might not be quite that extreme…”. Very convenient for your narrative that you left it out. Feel free to check for yourself. The link is given below.

    • As you might have noticed, I linked to a transcript, and quoted the transcript, which left out the phrase “it might not be that extreme”. I stand by the claim that “20 to 1, something like that, it might not be that extreme” is a misrepresentation of a number (of engineers) that ranges from 3:1 to 5:1.

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