Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Women Earn Almost 50% of College Math Degrees

We hear a lot about how women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and careers, and "Nationwide, there is a push for more women to choose STEM fields." There is a special National Science Foundation program called ADVANCE, whose goal is to:

"Increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. ADVANCE encourages institutions of higher education and the broader science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community, including professional societies and other STEM-related not-for-profit organizations, to address various aspects of STEM academic culture and institutional structure that may differentially affect women faculty and academic administrators. As such, ADVANCE is an integral part of the NSF’s multifaceted strategy to broaden participation in the STEM workforce, and supports the critical role of the Foundation in advancing the status of women in academic science and engineering."

Although it did not specifically address the STEM issue,
an editorial in Sunday's Washington Post talked about the "epidemic of sexism" in the U.S., and how "for women in America, equality is still an illusion."

Given that background, it was somewhat surprising to find that women earn almost half of the bachelor's and master's college degrees in mathematics, according to data through 2006 from the Department of Education (see chart above). Women have actually earned more than 40% of college undergraduate math degrees since 1972 and more than 40% of master's degrees since 1989.
In 1998, women earned 48.35% of all undergraduate degrees in mathematics compared to 51.65% for men. In 1999, women earned 45.5% of all Master's degrees in math compared to 54.5% for men. Since those peak years, the female shares of math degrees have fallen slightly, but were above 44% for bachelor's degrees and above 41% for master's degrees in 2006 (most recent year available).

What makes these results even more interesting is that men on average score about 35 points higher on the math portion of the SAT exam than women, so we might expect men to be much more overrepresented than the data for math degrees show. There are many sex imbalances for college degrees by academic field, and most of them favor women, as does the overall college degree imbalance. The fact that women earned more than 44% of all bachelor's degrees in math, and more than 41% of all master's degrees in math in 2006, suggests that there is no "epidemic of sexism" in college math departments, and equality in higher education is more than an illusion.


At 2/23/2010 3:44 PM, Anonymous DrTorch said...

If we didn't have all of these various -ism epidemics, what would the Wash Post write about?

At 2/23/2010 3:57 PM, Blogger Michael said...

In brief answer, those close to 50:50 ratios at BS and MS level do NOT propagate to PhD and are even lower at Assistant Professor.
For anyone who is genuinely interested in optimizing usage of humanity in technology, http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/cfawis/kathryn_johnston.pdf is a recent and excellent summary. For anyone who is married to their oh-woe-is-discrimanted-against-little-white-male-me violin, you've made your choice already stick with reading propaganda that supports it.

At 2/23/2010 4:00 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Hey DrTorch, how about this nugget from the WaPo's Howard Kurtz?

Scientology Church hires reporters to investigate newspaper

Monday, February 22, 2010

After decades of digging into the Church of Scientology, reporters and editors at the St. Petersburg Times are accustomed to being denounced by its leaders.

But they find it unsettling that three veteran journalists -- a Pulitzer Prize winner, a former "60 Minutes" producer, and the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors -- are taking the church's money to examine the paper's conduct.(there's more)

At 2/23/2010 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see what happens if you controlled for the type of university. Anecdotally I don't see gender equality in the math courses I've been a part of at large R1 universities.

Maybe the fact that even small liberal arts colleges (where women are over-represented) offer degrees in mathematics, while larger institutions/funding sources are usually required for engineering schools may explain why gender disparities show up more in some STEM disciplines than others.

Not wading into causes/effects, just wondering about the data...

At 2/23/2010 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the female degree earners are getting a teaching certificate. If you look at pure math majors (these are the ones that get PhDs) there are way more men.

I don't know this for sure, but I have a BS in Mathematics and most of the females in the math department got teaching certificates.

At 2/24/2010 3:35 PM, Anonymous David said...

As a male electrical engineering student (many years ago) I'm sure I would have strongly supported any effort to bring more women into the field.

Or even into the neighborhood.


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