Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Women Are Not Earning More Philosophy PhD's

In July 2006, Berit Brogaard commented on Julie van Camp’s summary figures for the percentage of PhD’s in philosophy which are earned by women. Those 2004 figures seemed to show that women’s participation in philosophy was increasing because it had broken the 30% mark for the first time:

2004: 33.3 %
2003: 27.1 %
2002: 25.3 %
2001: 25.2 %
2000: 28.4 %
1999: 24.8 %
1998: 29.4 %
1997: 26.0 %

In comments, Mike Almeida pointed out that a spike for one year does not make a trend.
This doesn't seem to show that the percentage of women receiving PhD's is increasing or I guess I don't see it. For instance, since 1998, there has been just one year with a larger percentage (since 1997, about half). Wouldn't you read that as no trend or a trend in the other direction? Looking at it a different way, the average for the first four years listed is about equal to the average for the last four.

More recent figures are now available from the NRC’s Study of Earned Doctorates (SED). Sadly, they do show that the 2004 figure was somewhat anomalous.

2006: 28.6%
2005: 25.1%

The SED figures indicate that women earn just about 27% of the doctorates awarded in philosophy, and that this figure has remained relatively static for over 15 years, going back to at least 1991.

Given that pipelines for women tend to tighten with career advancement, we can't expect the representation of women as professors to increase without also increasing the number that get undergraduate and graduate degrees. Right now, only about 20% of philosophy professors are women, far less than in any other area in the humanities.

So, what is to be done? In yesterday's post I gave reasons why professional organizations (that is, the APA) should take the lead.

Update: For whatever reason, the statistics that come from the Dept. of Education's Digest of Education Statistics are a little lower than those compiled by the NRC. For instance, they say the proportion of women earning doctorates in 2005 was 24.1% and that the average rate going back to 1994 is 26%. No source shows consistent change in this rate.

4 comments:

Sharon Crasnow said...

This is a very good point and when I presented a paper on this subject at the panel that Berit reported on I was careful to point this out. However, there is another piece of evidence that makes the 30% possibly important. If we look at other the history of other disciplines we see that once they went over the 30% mark that seemed to make a difference and there was a rapid increase in women PhDs from that point on. Now philosophy may not be like other disciplines but this was one of the reasons why there was some optimism about the 30%. It wasn't just that it was an increase over the previous year but that this percentage appeared to be a tipping point in other disciplines. Will philosophy prove to be similar to these disciplines or continue to be an anomaly?

meghan said...

What is to be done?

One thing that could/should be done is for women already tenured or in tenure-track jobs to push back against what I think of as the 'energetic guy' profile that is held up as the paradigm for young philosophers. I remember a thread a few years ago on the Brian Leiter blog in which responses were offered to the question of how bad it was for one's job prospects to take time off in or after graduate school, or take more than 5-6 years to complete the Ph.D.. The consensus seemed to be something like: If you're "slow" or gappy, you're just not serious about philosophy. Conversation and online observation over the past few years has led me to conclude that other factors required if one is to be viewed as serious about philosophy include frequent conference attendance, brisk output of journal publications on currently "hot" topics, and possibly an active online presence.

I think that a sincere effort to question each of these supposed markers of a good philosopher would be a very valuable endeavor. This should, of course, be accompanied by a continued inquiry into why men seem to do all of these things - no time off, conferences aplenty, blog chat - so much more than women.

Evelyn Brister said...

Sharon, is that paper available online? That was a great session.
Meghan, you're absolutely right.

ranjini said...
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