Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gender: Redressing Gender Balance (part 2)

It shouldn't surprise you that there is a major gender imbalance in higher education. That there is not even close parity between the sexes in the number of degrees given out by universities and colleges should shock no one. After all if you think about it it's obvious there is a disparity.

What isn't obvious and should come as a shock is that the gap is widening and not getting smaller. The imbalance is growing. Worse... it is expected to grow even more in the future. Here's how the disparity has grown over time:

  • 1990-1991 - 54% to 46%
  • 1995-1996 - 56% to 44%
  • 2000-2001 - 58% to 42%
  • 2005-2006 - 59% to 41%
  • 2010-2011 - 59% to 41% (projected)
  • 2015-2016 - 60% to 40% (projected)
It doesn't matter how you break down the degrees either. Currently there is only one category of degrees which breaks the other way. That is expected to change so that in all categories there will be a disparity. In a few years it won't matter if you talk about associate's, bachelor's, master's, first-professional, or doctor's degrees. 

In all categories women will be receiving more degrees then men will.

Does that surprise you? Did you know that women already are getting almost 60% of degrees awarded? Did you expect them to increase this number to 61% by 2019?

It shouldn't surprise you. There has been a lot of work over a long time to improve education and educational opportunities for women. From grade school to high school to higher education women have done better and continue to do better. This work was necessary and useful. The programs and practices put in place have made women more successful than ever in education.

Professor Mark J. Perry plots the numbers and thinks of the ramifications in The Increasing College Degree Gap; Will College Women's Centers Address *This* Gender Issue? If you want to look at the numbers themselves you can find them at the National Center for Education Statistics here. There's even an Excel version of the numbers in case you want to do any analysis yourself.

The question in my mind is what happens now that the imbalance has swung so far the other way? The "equal" point was back in 1981. Since then men have fallen behind. So now what do we do?

Do we stop the successful programs for women? The programs that have tailored education to their requirements and needs? Those programs and policies that have been so successful?

I hope we don't. Improving education for any gender is good for all of us.

Will we as a society be able to apply those lessons and learn how to keep men in school? To lessen the number of dropouts and increase the number of young men who go on to successful higher education?

I'm not looking for a 50-50 balance. I don't want the number of degrees to be limited and mandated. What I'm looking to see is whether even a fraction of the resources and effort that was spent to help women is now spent to help men.

Or maybe... just maybe... we can stop worrying about men vs. women and start applying those resources and efforts to students as a whole. Maybe we should be keeping as many kids in school as long as possible regardless of gender. Maybe we should be trying to increase the overall percentage of kids who get past high school and into higher education.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.


Lene Andersen said...

Getting the degrees actually doesn't surprise me. It's when you look at e.g., who has tenure that things switch back the other way.

But progress all the same.

David G said...

Tenure is one of those areas that gets more complicated the more I look at it. A survey of engineering position from 2004 and 2005 for only 89 institutions came up with some interesting numbers.

Are there fewer tenured positions going to women? But there are fewer women applying. A lower percentage of the women who received PhDs applied for tenure positions then men.

Those fewer women who do apply though are more likely to get interviewed and more likely to get job offers.

For tenure positions it didn't matter if the institution had in place a program designed to increase the number of women candidates. The number of women on the search committee was important though.

Once in their positions men and women had the same access to resources, lab space, and spent roughly the same amount of time teaching and doing research as each other. There was also no difference in the chance they'd be chairing committees or part of research teams. Women even reported more mentors than men. In most of the fields looked at the number of published papers was about the same. Men and women were about as likely to get grants, awards, honours, and offers of positions from other institutions.

Yet there is a pay gap. It's about 8% more for men. But only for full professors. At the associate or assistant level there was no discrepancy.

Women were more likely then men to receive tenure when up for tenure review. Promotion to full professor was as likely for both genders. Women did spend longer as assistant professors then men did.

Again... tenure is complicated. Fewer women apply but more of them get chosen. They are as likely to get resources but they spent longer as assistant professors. A mixed bag all around.

And of course this is just one snapshot of the situation in engineering. No trends and not many indepth reasons behind the numbers. Still it's interesting to see that there is a discrepancy but most of the biases after the number of applications are either gender neutral or beneficial towards women.

As always... it's complicated.