First Time In History That Women Earn More Doctoral Degrees Than Men

September 15, 2010

Graduates standing outsideFor the first time ever, women earned more doctoral degrees than men during the 2008-2009 school year, according to new data from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

Reversing a longstanding trend, female graduate students obtained slightly more than half (50.4 percent) of awarded doctorates. Of the total, women received 28,962, men, 28,469, reports The Washington Post. "It is a trend that has been snaking its way through the educational pipeline," says Nathan Bell, the CGS report's author and the Council's director of research and policy analysis. "It was bound to happen."

Until last year, men remained ahead in doctoral degrees, primarily by dominating engineering, mathematics, computer science, business, and physical and earth sciences, according to Inside Higher Ed. Still, nearly 80 percent of awarded engineering doctorates go to men. However, areas of study that contain mostly women extend beyond the arts and humanities, for example, into health and biological sciences.

The Washington Post reports that for consecutive years women have outnumbered men in undergraduate and graduate degree levels of higher education in about a 3:2 ratio. In addition, women have earned more master degrees than men. However, women enrolling in doctoral programs still lags behind that of men. This is ascribed to women having more difficulty committing to the seven-plus years it takes to become a Ph.D., opting instead to focus on motherhood. "Many women feel they have to choose between having a career in academics and having a family," says Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women. "Of course, they shouldn't have to."

Gender disparity also exists elsewhere in academia. Men hold more faculty and administrative positions despite women comprising 51 percent of the country's population. Starting salaries for faculty members are fairly equal but not at every other level, with men earning higher wages, per the American Association of University Professors. For example, in the 2009-10 academic year, men made $87,206 on average while women earned $70,600.

If the trend continues as it has over the recent decade, increasing numbers of women will graduate with doctoral degrees in the future, widening the gender gap, Inside Higher Ed reports. The average annual rate of increase among women earning Ph.D.s is about 5.5 percent, which compares to 2.1 percent for men.

Too large of a difference between the numbers of women and men attaining doctoral degrees isn't ideal for the economy. "If the U.S. is to remain competitive and economically strong, it is important that we recruit and retain the best and brightest students in graduate education, and that means from all segments of the population," Bell says. "We cannot depend on one segment of our population to provide for the majority of our workforce needs in individual fields."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Graduate Enrollment Continues Strong Growth in 2009," cgsnet.org, September 14, 2010

"More Women Than Men Got PhDs Last Year," washingtonpost.com, September 14, 2010, Daniel de Vise

"Women Lead In Doctorates," insidehighered.com, September 14, 2010, Scott Jaschik

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