Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bachelor's Degrees in Philosophy

In the month since I first analyzed the figures for gender disparity in philosophy, I've become more convinced that although this inequity should be addressed in graduate schools and the professoriate, the most effective time in the career pipeline to attract women is during the undergraduate years.

The sciences have been very effective at increasing the number of women who earn bachelor's degrees, but their efforts have been widespread, sustained, and well-funded. Two things working against a campaign to address gender inequality in undergraduate philosophy departments are:

1. philosophy is a small major; and
2. philosophy is easily overlooked among humanity and social science disciplines in which women make up a majority of students.

My data, again, come from the National Center for Education Statistics, and the most recent data are for 2005 graduates.

Philosophy is a somewhat smaller major than Anthropology, Chemistry, Drama, Physical Education, or Spanish.
About as many people earn undergraduate philosophy degrees as earn degrees in International Relations, Music, or Radio/TV.
Philosophy is a more popular course of study for undergraduates than is Physics or Geography.
More than 8 times as many students earn a BA in English as one in Philosophy.

Here are how some other fields compare to philosophy in terms of their gender distribution.
Below is the percentage of degree-earners who are women:

Biology & Biomedical Sciences 62%
Chemistry 51%
Economics 32%
English 68%
Foreign Language & Literature 71%
History 41%
Mathematics & Statistics 45%
Philosophy 30%
Political Science 47%
Psychology 78%


Noumena said...

Philosophy is a more popular course of study for undergraduates than is Physics

This didn't sound right to me, so I checked the data. `Philosophy' comes in at about 6.5k, with about 30% of those being women, while `Physics, general' is about 4k, 22% of whom are women.

Sure enough, the go-to `And what are you going to do with that?' major is producing more than half as many Bachelor's degrees again as the hardest of the `hard sciences'.

Also, notice that `Area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies' has about 7.5k Bachelor's degrees, with nearly 70% of those going to women. (And that's not just because of gender studies -- women outnumber men in every single subdiscipline here.) Commenting on an earlier post, I shared my hypothesis that philosophy has trouble attracting majors because our potential majors end up in other departments, especially gender studies, queer studies, African studies, and so on. While these numbers don't give any indication about alternative majors not chosen or reasons for choosing this major, I think these data indirectly support my hypothesis.

Thanks again for more fascinating numbers!

Evelyn Brister said...

I'm so glad that you're sharing my fascination with this data set! There are so many ways to look at it to give us insights into our field!

Even though it's bigger than philosophy, I was surprised to see that Chemistry (excluding Biochem) also comes in at under 10,000 students in a year.

I think about the amount of resources that go into recruiting in those fields (chemistry and physics), and specifically to recruiting women, and wonder why we can't learn some techniques. Granted, a philosophy degree doesn't lead to an industry job with the same certainty.

But is there a good reason why Philosophy should be so much smaller than English? I can think of historical reasons, and even what I would call psychological reasons (philosophers' self-loathing and elitism). But practically speaking, the skills that English graduates have are comparable to the skills of philosophy graduates. I think that we emphasize analysis and evidence even more strongly.

I love philosophy and am not ashamed to be a booster.

admin said...

Philosophy is more perfect for women and in the fact, womens is more focus on it.

Knowledge Management