Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Philip N. Cohen Headshot

In Phd Hunt, Men Track Men

Posted: Updated:

While women integrate, men accumulate.

The National Science Foundation has published new numbers on the PhDs granted in 2009, with a nice interactive tool allowing users to track trends from 1979. The gender trends are striking.

This is a chance to elaborate on my post describing a recent article by Paula England, in which I drew attention to her provocative conclusion about gender integration across a variety of social domains:

Because the devaluation of activities done by women has changed little, women have had strong incentive to enter male jobs, but men have had little incentive to take on female activities or jobs.

This is clearly seen in the PhD data, which she described up to 2006. The 2009 update doesn't change her conclusion, but I made a couple graphs highlighting this point.

Source: My chart from NSF data.

The general pattern is clear: All major areas showed increased representation of women. However, what's striking is that the growth in women's presence was nearly constant across major areas. Except for humanities, which showed the slowest growth for women, and life sciences, which showed the opposite, the gendered order was unchanged: Education at the top, engineering and physical sciences at the bottom -- and the gaps are remarkably constant.

Now, to England's point that women entered male fields more than reverse, look at which fields men entered most. This graph shows the increase in the number of male PhDs in each major area, arranged by the female representation in 1979.

Source: My chart from NSF data.

For example, engineering was 2% female in 1979, and there was a 147% increase in male engineering PhDs in the following 30 years. On the other extreme, education, which was already 42% female in 1979, saw a 49% drop in the number of male PhDs. In other words, rather than weakening, the glass floor underneath male fields remains nearly impenetrable.

Partly this does reflect more rapid growth in the male doctoral fields (e.g., overall, engineering tripled in size, while education shrank slightly). But that's not the whole story. For example, social sciences grew 28%, but the growth was all all female -- the number of male PhDs in social sciences actually fell.

It's a strange pattern, in which women's opportunities for mobility have improved, but female-dominated remains female-dominated. As a result, the devaluation of fields based on gender differentiation can remain intact, and women in male-dominated fields remain tainted by their association with the "occupational ghettos" they left behind.

One challenging implication of this pattern is that efforts to promote gender integration should also aim to entice men into female-dominated fields, rather just the reverse.

Cross posted from the Family Inequality blog.