Gender Bias in Psychology Graduate Degrees
A few days ago, I was looking at numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics in order to get a better sense of the gender bias in some STEM fields. Specifically, as part of a grant application, I wanted to know how much greater the rate of degrees awarded to males was than to females in a few scientific fields relevant to my project. The basic logic is that women make up 50% of the pool of degree candidates, so they should be around 50% of the number of degrees awarded. This sort of comparison is often used as a piece of the justification for allocating resources to increase the representation of women in STEM. As I expected, quite a few STEM fields have a significant gender imbalance; for example, only 14% of Master’s degrees in nuclear engineering go to women.
Out of curiosity, I decided to check the stats for Psychology and found something surprising: women are overrepresented, sometimes dramatically, in Master’s and Ph.D. degrees awarded. Far more women are pursuing graduate education in psychology than men, across domains. This certainly reflects my undergraduate classrooms, which are often quite lopsided, but I did not expect it at the graduate level.
I’m honestly not sure if this is a problem or not. We have evidence that women are systematically discouraged from pursuing most STEM careers in ways that are often quite explicit. Men do not generally face these sorts of problems. Although societally-prescribed social roles in part shape career paths for both men and women, women face unique problems not faced by men, and there are active efforts to address these problems.
Recognition of this gender imbalance in psychology, although not in the direction we usually hear about, is not new. Apparently the gender balance flipped around 1986 and became more extreme over the years. But we don’t seem to be doing anything about it. If the degree of imbalance seen here was in the opposite direction, in a natural science, it would be a problem to be solved. Are the same forces at play here? Is psychology seen as stereotypically feminine, discouraging men to pursue it, in the same way that stereotypically masculine fields discourage women? (Although assuredly, men probably do not face the same sort of outright harassment.)
I’ve created a couple of charts below to illustrate the extent of the imbalance in both Master’s and Ph.D. degrees awarded. My own area, I/O Psychology, is one of the more gender-balanced, with 36% male at the Master’s level (versus 50%, p < .001) and 42% male at the doctoral level (versus 50%, p = .056). In developmental psychology, around 1 in 10 graduate degrees awarded are to males. Should we be concerned?
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