U.S. women in academia reached a significant milestone last year. For the first time ever, more women than men earned PhDs in the 2008-09 school year, according to a survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board. The numbers showed women earned 28,962 doctorates that school year compared to the 28,469 doctorates earned by men.
Women have led the pack since the ’90s in number of master’s degrees earned compared to men. This stayed true during the 2008-09 school year, when women earned 60 percent of all master’s degrees. Women also represent about 58 percent of all undergraduates, according to a recent Newsweek article. Now, women have overtaken men in the final frontier of higher education—the doctorate.
While this reflects the great strides female scholars have made in higher education, there are still areas where women fall significantly behind men when it comes to doctoral degrees. The areas of engineering, mathematics, the hard sciences, and computer sciences are all still heavily dominated by men, with men holding roughly 80 percent of all engineering doctorates. The greater numbers of men compared to women in these highly analytical programs only reinforces stereotypes that men are inherently better at math and science. However, this doesn’t mean women are only interested in traditionally "female" degree programs, such as education and nursing. Women also outnumber men in professional degree programs such as those from medical and law schools, the Newsweek article points out.
Something else to note is that men outnumber women in administration and faculty positions at colleges and universities across the nation, particularly tenured professorships, according to a report by the Washington Post. Women often find it difficult to achieve tenure and some jobs as college professors because the most active years in a person’s academic career are the same years highly-educated women tend to have children, the article pointed out. This is an important disparity to consider because many PhDs wish to pursue careers as college faculty.
Women can take pride in earning more PhDs than men. However, the joy of how far women have come should always be tempered with the sobering reality that women still have a long way to go. Much more can be done to urge more women to pursue advanced degrees in engineering, math and computer science. Much more can be done to ensure qualified women are not edged out for tenured professorships because they decided to start a family. Finally, much more must be done to ensure women’s salaries, particularly as college professors, more closely match those received by men.
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