There's been a lot of hand-wringing this summer about the decline of the humanities. Students, it seems, just aren't studying literature the way they used to. But as The New Republic pointed out on Monday, that may simply be the result of women in the postwar era branching out into fields that had not been previously available to them.
According to a new study by Harvard fellow Benjamin Schmidt, “The entirety of the long term decline [of the humanities] from 1950 to the present has to do with the changing majors of women.” Before the 1970s, almost all women who went to college majored in education (40 percent) or the humanities (50 percent). Second-wave feminism encouraged women to pursue pre-professional tracks as well as majors in math and science. So, naturally, there was a decline in the number of people majoring in, say, comparative literature.
Writes The New Republic's Nora Caplan-Bricker:
The number of women majoring in the humanities dropped by half between the mid-’60s and early-2000s. The flip side is that today, women make up about half of all pre-professional degrees. Meanwhile, the number of men in the humanities has dropped as well, but only by about one-sixth over the last half century. “You'd have to be pretty tone-deaf to point to [women’s] ability to make that choice as a sign of cultural malaise,” Schmidt observes.
In other words, the supposed decline of the humanities may be little more than an increase in choice for women, who may well want to become doctors instead of, say, English teachers. There seems to be very little troubling about that.