The Persistence of International Science and Engineering Gender Segregation

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Lisa M. Frehill, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA
Background: There has been much recent interest in the extent to which faculty positions at colleges and universities, especially in science and engineering (S&E) fields, have equitable representations of women and men. Robust research has demonstrated the durability of occupational sex segregation processes, including research that focuses on such processes within various national contexts (e.g., Pearson, Frehill and McNeely 2015). Additionally, many nations have implemented programs to increase women’s participation in university faculty positions. For example, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE: Institutional Transformation program, the United Kingdom’s Athena and SWAN projects, and separate government-supported programs in Japan, S. Korea, France, Ireland and Poland have all attempted to increase women’s participation in S&E academia.

Methods: We use data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), NSF, and Brazil (Lattes) to describe trends in women’s S&E participation at the Tertiary A, doctoral and faculty levels. We analyze the concentration of women as an additional indicator of occupation sex segregation of science and engineering and compute D-scores, the index of dissimilarity, for each nation over time to examine gender segregation of science fields within and across nations for the period 1998-2012.

Findings (Preliminary): Since 1998, women’s representation in various academic fields has increased greatly at both the Tertiary A (~U.S. bachelor’s degree) and doctoral levels. At the Tertiary A level, women’s representation increased from 49 to 56% between 1998 and 2012 among the 30 nations in included in OECD’s data. At the doctoral level, women earned 36% of degrees in 1998 but neared parity at 47% in 2012. There remain important differences in levels of women’s participation across different S&E fields; women’s participation was highest in the social sciences at 60% of all doctoral degrees in 2012 and was lowest in computing and engineering (at 21% each) in 2012.

Conclusions: While women’s participation in S&E higher education has increased markedly since 1998 at both the bachelor’s and doctoral levels, segregation of women across S&E fields is persistent. Such segregation and the varied ways in which gender impacts the conduct of science in different S&E fields needs to be more carefully considered in designing policies and programs to address gender disparities in women’s participation.