Last year was the first year ever that more PhDs went to women than men. Now will academia eventually reflect the shifting paradigm?
According to Inside Higher Ed, a report by the Council on Graduate Schools finds that in 2008-09, women earned 50.4% of doctoral degrees — up from 44% in 2000. And while women are still the minority in engineering (22% of doctorates) and math and computer science (27%), they've pulled ahead in both biological and agricultural sciences (51%) and health sciences (a full 70%). The number of women getting PhD's in various fields is also increasing faster than that of men — in math and computer science, for instance, women's doctorates were up 7% last year, while men's climbed only 4.3%. The fact that women appear to be catching up even in fields where they supposedly have an inherent disadvantage is cause for rejoicing, but several experts are concerned about growing gender imbalance. Says Nathan Bell of the Council of Graduate Schools,
If the U.S. is to remain competitive and economically strong, it is important that we recruit and retain the best and brightest students in graduate education, and that means from all segments of the population. [...] We cannot depend on one segment of our population to provide for the majority of our workforce needs in individual fields.
Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind, adds that "we should care that men and women major in different things," and that if some groups are excluded from some fields, "we are not fielding our best team." Both of these are good arguments — as is Bell's comment that minority groups, who currently receive 29.1% of PhDs, need equal representation too. But they're also arguments that have been made for decades — and that have often fallen on deaf or even hostile ears. Will those who railed against affirmative action finally recognize the problems of underrepresentation if men become an underrepresented group? And will women's gains in education actually translate into parity in academic careers, where women still make less money at every level? It's not clear, but at least the news about women's doctorates is directing attention to the issue of gender in academia. Hopefully this attention will drive efforts to help all underrepresented groups succeed, and not simply convince people that the fight for women's equality is over.
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