Women in the Academic Pipeline

Catarina’s comment on the previous post prompted me to find out what the pipeline looks like in philosophy, and so I went to the tables from the Digest of Education Statistics (of the US, tables of Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by sex of student and field of study) and made a handy table plus graph:

Biological sciences BA Biological sciences PhD Computer sciences BA Computer sciences PhD Engineering BA Engineering PhD English BA English PhD Mathematics BA Mathematics PhD Philosophy BA Philosophy PhD Physical sciences BA Physical sciences PhD Social sciences BA Social sciences PhD
2006-07 60.1% 49.3% 18.6% 20.6% 16.9% 20.9% 68.3% 59.4% 44.1% 29.8% 31.2% 25.3% 40.9% 31.6% 49.8% 45.1%
2005-06 61.5% 49.2% 20.6% 21.7% 17.9% 20.2% 68.6% 59.3% 45.1% 29.5% 30.9% 26.8% 41.8% 30.0% 50.0% 43.3%
2004-05 61.9% 49.0% 22.2% 19.1% 18.3% 18.7% 68.5% 59.2% 44.7% 28.5% 29.7% 23.9% 42.2% 27.9% 50.5% 42.8%
2003-04 62.2% 46.5% 25.1% 22.0% 18.8% 17.7% 68.9% 60.3% 46.0% 28.1% 29.2% 31.4% 41.7% 27.8% 50.9% 42.6%
2002-03 61.9% 45.8% 27.0% 20.6% 18.7% 17.2% 68.8% 60.5% 45.8% 27.1% 32.2% 26.8% 41.2% 27.6% 51.5% 43.0%
2001-02 60.8% 44.3% 27.6% 22.8% 18.9% 17.3% 68.6% 58.5% 46.7% 29.0% 33.0% 23.6% 42.2% 28.0% 51.7% 43.1%
2000-01 59.5% 44.1% 27.7% 17.7% 18.2% 16.5% 68.4% 60.3% 47.7% 28.8% 31.4% 25.3% 41.2% 26.8% 51.8% 41.4%
1999-01 58.3% 44.1% 28.1% 16.9% 18.5% 15.5% 67.9% 58.8% 47.1% 25.0% 31.5% 30.1% 40.3% 25.5% 51.2% 41.2%
1998-99 56.5% 42.2% 27.1% 18.9% 17.7% 14.3% 67.4% 60.3% 47.8% 26.2% 30.3% 24.5% 39.9% 24.2% 50.5% 41.1%
1997-98 55.1% 42.5% 26.7% 16.3% 16.9% 12.2% 66.9% 59.1% 46.5% 25.7% 31.3% 28.0% 38.4% 25.2% 49.2% 40.8%

Click on the image to see a larger version.
The zig-zaggyness of the philosophy PhD line (dashed red) is probably just caused by the fact that there are relatively few philosophy PhDs awarded each year–under 400 versus between 1,100 and 8,000 for the other fields. Discuss.

NOTE: Evelyn Brister has collected these data for several years on the Knowledge and Experience blog. Be sure to check over there (click on the links on the left side) for additional info and discussion.

UPDATE: More pipeline data, now with faculty by rank!

21 thoughts on “Women in the Academic Pipeline

  1. It’s interesting to see how some fields (like biology) have been progressing towards greater equality at the PhD level, and even math and physics seem to be making some slight progress. Philosophy meanwhile seems to have stagnated, and a few fields (like computer science at the undergrad level) have actually regressed. I hadn’t realized that philosophy actually had a smaller percentage of female PhDs now than mathematical or physical sciences!

  2. There is a slight upward trend at the PhD level in all fields except philosophy. The slight downward trend at BA level that started around 2002 may be explained by some general factor (economy? Bush?). Even in English and bio it’s going slightly down. I wonder what’s responsible for the 10% point plunge in CS though over that decade.But yes: the graph should really be a wakeup call for all the people who say “well, philosophy is like math, so that’s probably why the percentage of women is so low.”: a) There are proportionately more math PhDs than philosophy PhDs awarded to women. b) At the undergraduate level, the situation in philosophy is only slightly better than it is at the PhD level, while in math we almost have parity!

  3. In contrast to Richard’s comment above, rather than noticing the near-parity for math undergraduates, I notice how few of them go on to complete graduate programs, saying in effect “one degree is enough”. (Those two yellow lines are really far from each other, indicating the attrition rate in math is much higher for women than for men.) In part, this may be explained by how easy or difficult it is to start a career without a Ph.D. in that field (hard for philosophy graduates, much easier for math graduates). Then again, in some part it can be explained by conscious or unconscious bias that keeps women from applying to and/or being successful in graduate programs. I wonder what other factors might influence this.Perhaps the reason there is near-parity for undergraduates in math but not in philosophy is because a BA in math provides many more viable and visible career paths than a BA in philosophy.

  4. These numbers and the graph don’t measure how many philosophy BAs continue on to do PhDs, but rather the difference in proportional representation of women among the BA and PhD graduates. In fact, for both math and philosophy, the number of PhD recipients is about 1/10th of the number of BA recipients. So there’s nothing to explain. If these ratios were different, that would need explaining, and your suggestion would explain why (in this fictional scenario) only 10% of mathematics BAs go on to do a math PhD. But it wouldn’t explain why among those who chose to go on to do a PhD, only 30% are women while women make up 45% of the math BAs.

  5. Oh wait, I think I get what you mean: Suppose it were the case that more women than men choose an undergraduate major because they “just want a viable career path”, and suppose that a BA in math “provides many more viable and visible career paths than a BA in philosophy.” Then proportionately more women would choose a math BA without wanting to go on to do a PhD than women would choose a BA in philosophy without wanting to go on to do a PhD. Something like that?

  6. Richard, you are so thorough! Thanks for compiling the data. If nothing else, the discrepancy philosophy-math is worth thinking about — something you had already mentioned at some point, in the context of the much lower ratio of papers published by women in philosophical logic journals than in math journals.Just a clarification: the BA as well as the PhD data concern people who actually obtained the degree, right? It would be interesting to see the proportion of women who enroll at the undergraduate level vs. those who actually obtain their BA, and similarly the proportion of women who start a PhD (in philosophy in particular) vs. those who finish it. If people are right in pointing out the ‘aggressive’ style of doing philosophy as partially responsible for chasing women away, then one might expect that the losses would be mostly along the way, and that there would be a discrepancy between the proportion of women who start a PhD in philosophy and those who finish it.(Sorry, I don’t want to sound like you need to go compile even more statistical data! =))

  7. The data sets from the DES don’t have that. They have survey data for undergraduates, but they lump philosophy together with religious studies, and then you get 60% women at the undergraduate level. I haven’t seen any data on attrition rates in graduate programs at all.

  8. Sorry, looked at the wrong numbers for my last post: 9% of math BAs go on to PhD, but only 5.6% of philosophy BAs (maybe less, since I guess it’s easier to do a philosophy PhD without a philosophy BA than it is to do a math PhD without a math BA).

  9. Too bad that this kind of information is not available. But I think we should try to convince every department to post on their websites their stats for male vs. female proportion, just as they now all post information on placement record. It doesn’t have to be very elaborate, just information on the proportion of women who start their PhD programs vs. the proportion of those who finish. Of course, this could have the perverse effect of chasing women away from the department with ‘bad’ stats in this respect; but on the other hand it may be a wake-up call for those departments who are visibly losing more women than others along the way. Something like the ‘women-friendliness factor’ of a given PhD program… Does that sound like something that could be implemented?

  10. Thanks for the link to the list. Some comments: firstly, in most cases there isn’t information on the % of women enrolled in the program, and none on the proportion between those who start the program and those who finish (although in such cases I suspect there wouldn’t be much a discrepancy, given that these are supposed to be women-friendly departments). If there is something of a social obligation of listing such stats, then departments in general may feel they have to comply, and the problematic cases would stand out even more. Second: I think it would be important not to conflate women-friendliness with feminism-friendliness. I for one worry very much about the status of women in philosophy, but do not feel inclined at all to work on feminist topics (I’m quite happy with my ‘male’ topics =)). Ideally, there should be women-friendly departments that are not particularly focused on feminist topics. But maybe that’s for a later stage.

  11. Yes, Richard, you read my meaning exactly. Maybe if a BA in philosophy could get people a good job, more women would get one. 🙂

  12. Some more numbers re Kevin’s point: We have 4,788 male philosophy BAs and 290 male philosophy PhDs (6.1%) and 2,175 female philosophy BAs and 98 PhDs(4.5%). So the drop-off in the proportional representation of women in the PhD pool would be explained by accounting for why just 1.4% of women philosophy BAs didn’t end up getting PhDs. For math, we’d need explaining why 4.3% of women BAs didn’t end up getting a PhD. (men: 8,360 BAs, 949 PhDs or 11.4%; women 6,594 BAs, 402 PhDs or 6.1%). Being “happy with a viable career path” might be one factor here. Of course there are other possible explanations: more women than men forgo graduate education because they have families, a slight bias against women in admission to PhD programs, or a slightly higher attrition rate in PhD programs (which could be caused by bias against women, or the alleged “aggressive culture”, or slightly higher drop-out rates because of financial pressures or child-care obligations, etc.). It’s probably some combination of these factors (and others I haven’t thought of).In any case, the message for philosophy is clear (and was emphasized by Evelyn Brister in the previous post and by Dan Hicks on the NY Times comment thread): to get more women philosophy PhDs we have to increase the percentage of women getting philosophy BAs. The pipeline is leaky, but not that leaky (not as leaky as in math, say). The problem is that too few women start doing philosophy at all. (This may not be true in countries other than the US, as Catarina has noted!)

  13. Suppose you have 1,000 philosophy majors (over 10 years, say). 312 of them are women, 688 are men. 14 (4.5%) of the women will go on to do PhDs, and 41 (6.1%) of the men. To close the gap in the pipeline (ie, make the proportion of women among the PhDs the same as that among the BAs, you have to persuade 5 more of your women majors to go do a PhD (that’s 1.6% of your female undergraduate population). You’d have to find 376 women to do a philosophy BA to get your undergrads to a 50/50 balance (or kick out 376 of your male BA students). If the undergrad pool were at parity, you’d have 500 women majors and 500 men majors, and 30 of the men but only 22 of the women would go on to do a PhD. To stop the leak in the pipeline, you’d have to persuade 8 additional female undergrads to do a PhD.

  14. I’m quite surprised to hear that in the US the gender discrepancy seems to be there from the start. This is certainly not the case of the two countries I know best, Brazil and the Netherlands. In both cases, the proportion for undergrads is really 50-50 (usually). So this suggests that such analyses of academic pipelines must be conducted at a local level. The Netherlands has a very bad proportion of women in leading positions (not only academically); among other things it has the lowest % of female full professors of all EU countries. This is very much a concern for the government, and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has different programs (in all areas) to try to change this situation. But in philosophy, in any case, it does not seem to be a matter of low proportion of female undergrads.

  15. I used to think that a major reason for women not choosing philosophy was the job prospects (echoing Kevin S at October 10, 2009 11:21 AM). But look at Computer Science! Surely as far as job prospects go, CS is at the top of the list. So it seems to me that the analytic-philosophy-is-too-needlessly-aggressive factor may really be the right one..

  16. Why should there be just one factor? You know, maybe that’s one factor which has a tiny bit of influence. And then there are lots of other factors that have as much or more effect. And for each one of them you’ll find another discipline where it seems to have a different effect.

  17. RZ, I completely agree that there isn’t just one factor.. there can’t be. However, we can speak of “major” factors; reinterpret what I wrote in that light. About what you say: Why would it be that each factor has a different effect in different disciplines? Maybe I’m just not seeing something obvious. Surely if we want a theory for why there are fewer women in philosophy, the theory must be able to generalise (as far as possible) to other fields?So, for example, we want to be able to say, ceteris paribus, women prefer fields where the job prospects are better (or something like that). Then it seems to me we wouldn’t want to include field information in the ceteris paribus clauses.

  18. Women might prefer fields in which the job prospects are better, but they might also prefer fields where the faculty has more women, or they don’t only read work by dead white males (at least in the intro classes), or they prefer fields that they’re not societally conditioned to think they can’t succeed in, etc. And because different fields measure up differently, the combination of factors makes it so that no single factor is likely to be a or the major factor. For instance, the fact which Catarina pointed out (in other countries–in her case the Netherlands) the representation of women among undergraduate students is much higher. But I doubt that job prospects for philosophers are much better in the Netherlands than they are in the US. (Although that may be wrong? Is philosophy a teachable subject in the Netherlands, ie, can you become a high school teacher in philosophy? I don’t think you can in the US.) To illustrate what I meant, suppose there are are just two factors that determine which undergraduate major women choose: (a) Whether or not the societal stereotype says that the field is unsuitable for women and (b) what the job prospects are. Now suppose there is a strong stereotype that women can’t succeed as engineers but no such stereotype in philosophy. Also suppose that job prospects are better in engineering than in philosophy. Then women will stay away from engineering because of (a) but they will stay away from philosophy because of (b). That’s what I meant by different factors have different effects in different fields. Maybe I should have written that the size of the effect is different in different fields?Listen to the logician doing armchair sociology!

  19. The cross countries BA comparison may not only be explicable by observing reasons women might be more likely to choose philosophy in countries that have greater BA philosophy gender equality, but it might also be explicable by observing reasons men might be less likely to choose philosophy (at the undergrad level) in those countries. Perhaps there aren’t relatively more women philosophy BA students in those countries, but instead relatively fewer men philosophy BA students. How could we tell which of these proposals is more accurate? There are so many possible hypotheses that it is hard to get a clear picture of all the nuances.

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