Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Women Earned More Doctoral Degrees

According to a recent report by the National Council on Graduate Schools, women received more doctoral degrees than men for the first time ever. In 2008-09, women earned 50.4% of doctoral degrees awarded in all disciplines, compared to 44% eight years prior. This is good news, as it shows that the parity reached first in undergraduate degrees and then masters degrees, has finally trickled up to the doctoral degrees. Some credit for this must go to Title IX, which prohibited gender caps and quotas that limited women's admissions in higher education, and helped prepare these future Ph.D.s by strengthening their educational opportunities in early education as well.

But despite this good news, it is too early to declare that discrimination in education is dead and buried. First, there is still a wage disparity. NPR coverage of the NCGS study noted that male professors with PhDs earn $87,200 on average -- $16,600 more than their female counterparts. Moreover, even though there is overall parity in doctoral degrees awarded, there are extreme disparities within disciplines. Men earned the vast majority of doctoral degrees in engineering, math and hard science, while women dominated fields like education, health sciences, and public administration. The belief that such polarization can be explained by innately different brains is rapidly losing scientific credibility, which requires us to examine those fields for the presence of bias, double-standards, or a structure that somehow tends to favor or support graduate students personal lives and obligations that are often gendered (i.e., pregnancy and childcare). Other possibilities: are men are deterred from helping professions by stigma or low earning potential? Are they able to climb the ladder in those fields without a ph.D.? While cheering the overall degree parity in doctoral degrees, the fact that many fields remain highly gendered should still be cause for concern.