When I first read that women were now earning more Ph.D.s than men, I thought, wow, what a watershed achievement. I immediately tweeted about the story and watched as many people picked it up and retweeted the news. I had to chuckle because all the retweeters were women, but I know there are many men out there applauding, even if privately. But then I asked myself, what difference does this “lead” really make? To find out, I asked our research department here at AAUW.
They gave me some stats: Last year was the first time ever that women earned a majority of the doctoral degrees awarded in the United States. Women earned 493 more Ph.D.s than men (28,962 compared to 28,469), giving them a slight majority (50.4 percent) in doctoral degree attainment. In 2000, women earned 44 percent of all Ph.D.s.
While the milestone is cause for some celebration, we know that increasing the number of women Ph.D.s does not mean that our work is done. Despite earning a majority of Ph.D.s overall, women are underrepresented in the high-paying, high-status fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM fields). Women earn one-third or less of all doctorates in engineering (21.6 percent), mathematics and computer science (26.8 percent), and physical and earth science (33.4 percent). Check out AAUW’s Why So Few? research report to learn about the barriers that continue to limit female participation and progress in STEM.
Also, it is not clear that women’s gains in earning Ph.D.s will translate into gains in academic careers. Even in fields like biology, where women now receive about half of the Ph.D.s, women’s representation among tenured faculty is lower than one would expect, given the number of female Ph.D. recipients. For example, in 1996 women earned 42 percent of doctorates in biology, but in 2006 (allowing 10 years for an individual to begin an academic job and earn tenure) women accounted for less than one-quarter of tenured faculty.
Increasing women’s representation in what many call our country’s critical need fields — the STEM fields — and attracting and retaining more female STEM faculty will require more than increasing the pool of female Ph.D.s. We must continue to address societal and institutional barriers and gender bias in education and the academic workplace.
And yet, we should recognize that we did cross a threshold. So while there is much work to be done, I for one am taking a moment to applaud those hardworking women (many juggling families and jobs) who have earned their Ph.D.s. Well done!
Note: This is a guest post from two great folks at AAUW (formerly known as the American Association of University Women) – Christy Jones, director of membership and Andresse St. Rose, senior researcher.
With a nationwide network of 100,000 members and donors, 1,000 branches, and 500 college and university partners, AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, research, and philanthropy. For more than 129 years, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day including education, equal pay, and gender discrimination in the workplace. By joining AAUW, you belong to a community that breaks through educational and economic barriers so that all women have a fair chance. Visit the AAUW website for more information.
photo credit: National Library of Medicine
by Christy Jones, director of membership and Andresse St. Rose, senior researcher, AAUW