How Universities Destroy Human Capital

The link between higher education and economic growth is well established: build the schools, attract smart students, and behold, a booming economy. There is, however, a less obvious but equally important link: build the schools, attract smart students, these smart students marry each other and eventually have super-smart children, and the economy will flourish for generations. It’s easy to overlook this marriage–procreation relationship, but imagine if the best and brightest college graduates chose celibacy. The economy would exhaust its brain fuel. Modern society is impossible if the most talented intellectuals exit the gene pool.

This second function of higher education, creating future generations of smart people, has been ignored since Mother Nature invisibly solved it—at least until now. Thanks to her guidance, youngsters did “what came naturally,” and new generations of smart kids replaced their bright, college-educated parents. In fact, the massive entry of women into college, particularly elite schools, beginning in the 1960s facilitated the production of successive smart generations. Now, Harry the future nuclear engineer could date and then marry classmate Sally, the soon-to-be molecular biologist, and their talented offspring Zoe and Max could revolutionize quantum computing.

Unfortunately, however, Mother Nature’s wondrous formula has its limits. While smart parents may have smart children, they have fewer children overall compared to the general population. So, the question is not whether the formula works in principle (it does); the question is whether the formula performs on today’s campuses. And if it is breaking down, can it be fixed? Will Harry court and marry Sally, and if they do get married, will they have children? If both reject the traditional script, American higher education may well fail at producing the workforce necessary for a First World economy.

Answering these questions is difficult since it may be a decade or more before we have marriage and fertility data for the current college population, and even if the numbers look dreadful, it may be too late to fix the problem. It’s not easy to convince super-smart men and women in their 30s to get married and have children “to help American sustain its intellectual capital.” Marriage and procreation to ensure American greatness is not how Mother Nature works. The plummeting birth rates in South Korea, Japan, and Europe show that not everybody is thrilled about “doing what comes naturally” to sustain a tech-heavy economy.

It is unwise to wait until smart people begin going extinct. The good news is that the source of this future extinction is hardly hidden, and while reversing it poses formidable problems, the stakes are too high to counsel indifference. We may not be able to force Harry to marry Sally and produce brainy kids, but we can at least mitigate that which inhibits family life.

We ought to begin by recognizing the widespread demonization of men and the nuclear family on today’s campuses. It is as if university administrators want to put humans, especially smart humans, on the endangered species list. But surely a case can be made that helping high-IQ people flourish is at least comparable to protecting the Salt Creek tiger beetle.

[Related: “Welcome to Bedlam College”]

A Martian campus visitor would endlessly hear that men are guilty of toxic masculinity and are so dominated by Neanderthal urges that even star chamber–like judicial proceedings cannot prevent date rape and similar misogynistic behavior. Given this messaging, why would Sally even think about accepting Harry’s invitation to the ZBT fraternity party, since, she is told, the frat boys get their dates drunk (or worse) to take advantage of them sexually? Better stay home and study calculus.

The Martian visitor would also discover that an anti-male mentality infuses the school’s academic message. Entire disciplines—women’s studies, gender studies, queer studies—as well as many courses in English and the social sciences, tell their captive audiences about the evil patriarchy that pushes women into marriage and childrearing to sustain their domination. Meanwhile, those gullible women who might define themselves as mothers and wives are warned that such choices betray the Sisterhood. It’s all a capitalist conspiracy to deny women the right to self-fulfillment. In other words, ignoring Harry’s romantic overtures strikes a blow for personal liberation! It’s better to avoid domesticity and instead become a high-tech entrepreneur. If that’s insufficient to undermine family formation, stoke anger by recounting every imaginable abuse women have suffered. What man wants to associate with these enraged women obsessing over victimhood? Who would want to marry them?

While sexual desire may be irrepressible (Mother Nature does sneak in), fear not—it can easily be separated from family and marriage. Thanks to modern campus life, Sally can experience all the erotic pleasure she craves without getting involved with Harry or, for that matter, any male. Sex and marriage no longer go together, as the old song said, “like a horse and carriage.” University health services will happily, and at no cost, disrupt the sex–marriage relationship with free birth control and no-questions- asked cures for sexually transmitted diseases. No-stigma abortion will also be available on demand.

Given these options, why should Sally ask Harry “to wait”? Hookup culture is, as they say, a valid lifestyle. Nor is there any pressure to follow the straight and narrow path to sexual fulfillment. Universities often offer a “sex week” of instruction where Sally learns about sex toys and masturbation, along with multiple non-reproductive sex techniques. And, if Sally feels adventurous, there are unstigmatized, even celebrated, same-sex pleasures. Who can say what is normal? Modesty is so Ozzie and Harriet.

Meanwhile, Harry is pursuing his own hedonistic options. If Sally is less than cooperative, dozens of young ladies will be more than willing, no strings attached. In a pinch, there is always free, late-night internet porn and video games where he can “fall in love” with computer-generated goddesses who offer far more than Sally could ever provide. He can live a virtual world that provides all the joys of romance sans any fear of rejection or inept performance. No need to take a shower, dress up, or otherwise master the skills of courting. It’s cheaper than dinner and a movie, too.  Best of all, no young man has ever been expelled for harassing a computer generated “human”—it’s the perfect “safe sex.” No wonder countless young men become addicted to sex on the web—all gain, no pain.

[Related: “National Suicide by Education”]

In principle, schools can restore an earlier era when the campus social life facilitated marriage and, eventually, children. Administrators should at least be aware that promoting fashionable nonsense which castigates the nuclear family as sexist, racist, and arbitrary may eventually result in empty classrooms—or dumber students to fill the seats. Perhaps these functionaries should think of themselves as stewards of the environment responsible for protecting intellectually talented humans from extinction. Why not give school administrators virtue-signaling canvas tote bags depicting nerdy kids with the label, “endangered”? Smart kids can become the new Siberian white tigers.

Schools can keep young men and women at a distance to facilitate romantic ardor, so that marriage becomes a desirable alternative to sexual frustration. Or they can abolish co-ed dorms where daily co-mingling in bathrooms cools romantic desires. They can tighten up rules on cohabitation in university housing. Chaperoned dances can replace sex week seminars while fraternities and sororities hold tea parties where future couples can socialize in total security.

 Now, with the barriers to easy sexual encounters higher, both men and women must work harder to attract members of the opposite sex. Men may have to learn how to dance and dress properly; women will be taught how to be “lady-like” and attentive to subjects that interest young men. Classes in etiquette will replace workshops on kinky sex. Slow-moving courtships will supplant hookups, and the mating game will now include assessments of the parental abilities of potential spouses. Boorish male behavior will be punished in the dating marketplace, not by bureaucrats with political agendas.

Universities create human capital, and it is all too easy to stress just the material side of capital creation—laboratories, institutes, distinguished faculty, and the like. Easily overlooked is the human side of this capital: smart people. Why pour billions into higher education if facilities go unused, if schools are filled only with the mediocre, or if students from abroad will return home after graduation?

For decades American universities have compensated for the domestic shortfall of human capital by importing smart students from abroad. Recent events suggest that this strategy may become less effective. It’s time to think about cultivating home-grown talent, just as we now fret over our dependency on imported computer chips and antibiotics.

Let’s go, Harry and Sally! Just do it!

Image: Adobe Stock


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