Friday, November 30, 2007

Bachelor's Degrees in Philosophy, By Sex

Today's topic in what is becoming a series of posts on the status of women in philosophy is:
Do women major in philosophy as undergraduates?

I'll supply the figures, but the why's, wherefore's, and solutions to the problem are left to the reader.

Here are figures for the percentage of bachelor's degrees in philosophy earned by women. The source is the Digest of Education Statistics compiled by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

1994: 32.0%
1995: 31.6%
1996: 31.4%
1997: 29.8%
1998: 30.9%
1999: 31.3%
2000: 31.5%
2001: 31.4%
2002: 33.0%
2003: 32.3%
2004: 29.2%
2005: 29.7%

During this 12-year time series, there does not seem to be much change. The average during this period is 31.2% of undergraduate philosophy degrees being earned by women.

Now, to give this figure some perspective, the percentage of women earning bachelor's degrees in all fields has been increasing. In 1985 it was 50.7%, in 1995 it was 54.7%, and in 2005 57.4% of bachelor's degrees were earned by women.

Certainly it is time to have a discussion in the profession about why women are not being recruited to philosophy at the undergraduate level.

Stay tuned for the next installments in this series:
  • a comparison with figures in other disciplines; and
  • an analysis of our very own shrinking pipeline


Rachel McKinney said...

This is a great series! Very helpful to have some demographic data to look at here. I'm also very glad that you've put this in terms of a pipeline problem -- that seems to me to be exactly what's going on here.

Noumena said...

(wandered over from Feminist Philosophers)

As I understand the term, a pipeline problem refers to one of retaining women (and other underrepresented groups) throughout a whole academic career in the field. So, for example, you might get quite a few women major in mathematics as undergraduates, but the proportion who go on to get Ph.Ds in mathematics is much less, and the proposition who eventually get tenure in a mathematics is still smaller. The problem is something like a higher attrition rate for women compared to men.

The data posted here and in the last post suggest that this isn't exactly the problem in philosophy, at least with respect to the time between a BA and a Ph.D. In 1994, 32% of new bachelors in philosophy were women. Six years later, 28.4% of new doctors in philosophy were women. Those numbers are close enough for the following to be reasonable: about the same percentage of women philosophy majors as men philosophy majors went on to get a Ph.D in philosophy. The attrition rate in graduate school is probably a bit higher for women than men, but bringing the two closer together (by, hopefully, bringing the women's rate down) won't significantly improve the underrepresentation problem.

Instead, I think these data suggest the problem lines at the beginning of the pipeline. Simply put, for some reason, far fewer women than men are majoring in philosophy. A good first step to solving the underrepresentation problem, then, is to figure out what the some reason is.