Percentage of Bachelor’s degrees conferred to women, by major (1970-2012)

One oft-cited problem with Computer Science is its glaring gender disparity: In a given Computer Science class, men will outnumber women as much as 8 to 2 (20% women). This stands in stark contrast to most other college majors, which have women outnumbering men 3 to 2 on average (60% women). This observation made me wonder: Are other STEM majors suffering the same gender disparity?

To get at that question, I checked into the NCES 2013 Digest of Education Statistics and looked at the gender breakdown from 1970-2012 for every major they report on. I charted the data below to offer a bird’s eye view of the trends. You can download the cleaned data set here.

Edit: For a perspective on the gender gap in female-dominated majors, please look here.

percent-bachelors-degrees-women-usa

Today’s trends

The woman-dominated majors of today are unsurprising to anyone who has attended a large university in the U.S.:

  1. Health Professions (85% women): nursing assistant, veterinary assistant, dental assistant, etc.
  2. Public Administration (82%): social work, public policy, etc.
  3. Education (79%): pre-K, K-12, higher education, etc.
  4. Psychology (77%): cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, etc.

Surprisingly to me, most of the STEM majors aren’t doing as bad gender disparity-wise as I expected. 40-45% of the degrees in Math, Statistics, and the Physical Sciences were conferred to women in 2012. Even better, a majority of Biology degrees in 2012 (58%) were earned by women. This data tells me that we don’t really have a STEM gender gap in the U.S.: we have an ET gender gap!

This ET gender gap has severe consequences. Computer Science and Engineering majors have stagnated at less than 10% of all degrees conferred in the U.S. for the past decade, while the demand for employees with programming and engineering skills continue to outpace the supply every year. Compare this to more woman-dominated majors such as Business and Health Professions, which comprise 1/3 of all college degrees in 2012 when combined.

Provided that far more women attend college than men, it seems the best way to meet the U.S.’s growing need for skilled programmers and engineers is to focus on recruiting more women — of any race or ethnicity — into Computer Science and Engineering majors. The big question, of course, is “How?” With the constant issues of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination against women in these male-dominated majors, we have quite a tough task on our hands.

Looking at the historical trends, maybe we have something to learn from Architecture and the Physical Sciences, given that they were in our position only 40 years ago.

Historical trends

Perhaps the more fascinating trend in the above graph is how the gender composition of these majors have changed in the past 40 years. Several majors, such as the Health Professions and Education, have been woman-dominated as far back as we have reliable data. But other majors, such as Psychology and Communications/Journalism, didn’t see their rise to preference until the late 1970s. Perhaps the most dramatic gender composition change occurred in Agriculture, which started as a gentleman’s club in 1970 (only 4% of degrees conferred to women) and grew to an even 50%-50% split by 2012.

Going back to Computer Science, we see a rather sad story unfold. The computer scientists of today find themselves in the same disposition as the computer scientists of the 1970s: Only ~15% of the CS degrees were conferred to women. Then the late 1970s and early 1980s finally looked promising: With a peak at 37% of all CS degrees in 1983, it seemed as though Computer Science might join the rest of the majors with a more even gender distribution. But 1984 saw fewer women graduating with a CS degree, and the trend has followed a downward spiral ever since. What was it about the 1970s and early 1980s that made Computer Science more welcoming to women? And what changed?

Dr. Randy Olson is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. As a member of Prof. Jason H. Moore's research lab, he studies biologically-inspired A.I. and its applications to biomedical problems.

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  • vt

    What about other pure science degrees such as chemistry or environmental science? Also, I’d be curious about subfields in engineering. At Georgia Tech, anecdotal data was that biotech was majority women for instance.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      NCES doesn’t have this data on some fields, unfortunately. Chemistry seems to be one of them that they don’t have this data on, for whatever reason.

      • Katherine

        I think Chemistry is included under “physical sciences and science technologies”, which you’ve shortened to just “physics”.

        If you look at the data for just physics elsewhere, it hovers at about 20-25% female in the last 10 years. For instance, here, from the AIP:
        http://www.aip.org/statistics/data-graphics/percent-physics-bachelor%E2%80%99s-degrees-earned-women-classes-1981-through-2010

        • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

          You’re right. I amended the post & charts to reflect that “Physics” is actually “Physical Sciences.”

      • Carolyn

        If you look at the data presented in the Department of Ed’s IPEDS database (which informs the NCES data releases) you can find data on specific fields.

    • Lex

      Biomedical engineering at the large state school I attended was also ~50% female if not greater.

  • some smart mensa guy

    “With the constant issues of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination against women in these male-dominated majors”

    Have you entertained the possibility that maybe most women SUCK at CS&E?

    • st

      It took me a moment to stop being mad and realize you are actually right: most women DO suck at CS&E. So do most men.

      But if you are not just being sarcastic (and even if you are), this is a perfect example of a discriminating attitude that will make women less likely to join these fields.

    • Ceal

      “some smart mensa guy”. Hmmm. On what are you basing your statement? what research? Talent, aptitude, and skills are not the obstacle; the issue is choice (Ceci & Williams, 2010). Young women are not aspiring to those careers (Perez-Falkner, 2010). The problem is why not.

      Ceci and Williams (2007) had many research authors weigh in on your point. If you read the book, it might prove enlightening for you, Newcombe’s (2007) chapter on spatial sex differences in particular. In another book chapter, Gur and Gur (2007) concluded from their meta-analysis that women and men use their brains differently to perform the same spatial task (p. 194).

      Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2010, October). Sex differences in math-intensive fields. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(5), 275-279. doi:10.1177/0963721410383241

      Gur, R. C. & Gur, R. E. (2007). Neural substrates for sex differences in cognition. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams [Eds.], Why Aren’t More Women in Science: Top Researchers Debate the Evidence, pp. 189-198. Washington, DC: Sage.

      Newcombe, N. S. (2007). Taking science seriously: Straight thinking about spatial sex differences. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams [Eds.], Why Aren’t More Women in Science: Top Researchers Debate the Evidence, pp. 69-77. Washington, DC: Sage.

      Perez-Felkner, L. C. (2010, May). Cultivating college dreams: Institutional culture and social pathways to educational attainment. Paper presented at International AERA 2010 Conference, Denver, CO.

      • Ali Bertarian

        Here is a possible answer to why women tend not to choose CS & E. From the abstract of an article in Psychological Science:

        “Although women have nearly attained equality with men in several formerly male-dominated fields, they remain underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We argue that one important reason for this discrepancy is that STEM careers are perceived as less likely than careers in other fields to fulfill communal goals (e.g., working with or helping other people). Such perceptions might disproportionately affect women’s career decisions, because women tend to endorse communal goals more than men. As predicted, we found that STEM careers, relative to other careers, were perceived to impede communal goals.” http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/8/1051.abstract

        This would also explain why women are so over-represented in the Health Professions majors.

      • Juan in Texas

        Focus on where women are under represented but ignore that equality doesn’t exist for men.

    • Susan Rubinsky

      All you have to do is look at Engineering programs that have put in programs* to actively recruit women and see that women are fully capable to performing in this area. Cornell had a 38% rate of enrollment for woman in the engineering department in 2013-14.

      These programs are aimed not only at actively recruiting women, but also changing organizationally to be more inclusive to women. This includes hiring more more female faculty and putting into place organizational programs supportive of women (childcare, for example).

      http://cornellsun.com/blog/2014/02/14/female-enrollment-in-cornells-college-of-engineering-reaches-record-high/

  • Pax Mcracken

    (1) – If some majors are “woman-dominated as far back as we have reliable data,” why should we be surprised/dismayed that the same thing exists for men? Is the fact the health fields have always been popular with women a “rather sad story?”

    (2)-If there’s such a marked disparity in gender preference for these majors, wouldn’t the more effective strategy to boost CS be recruiting -men- who might choose other majors? Even with the gender gap in total enrollment you could easily “poach” enough, say, math students to bump CS numbers up significantly.

  • Nick

    I’d wager that the gender disparity in CS is related to men being four times more likely to display autistic spectrum tendencies. That four to one ratio is pretty close to the 80% male enrolment. Similarly at the opposite tail of the distribution (of presumably very extroverted individuals with high empathy) we have 80% women in fields such as health.

    Perhaps if one desires to have more women in CS you should advertise things like cooperation in software projects, helping others through tech-solutions, etc to women. And conversely get more guys into female fields by highlighting the opportunities for problem solving and opportunities for gaining status.

    • huehuehue

      Unless you assume that only people with autistic tendencies go in to computer science and engineering (obviously false), your analysis doesn’t make sense because the data is for everyone, not just people with autism.

      • Niklas

        I’ve completed a bachelors in CS and have many friends in other unis studying STEM subjects, so I feel I’m familiar with the demographic. Like 50% of the students were full on aspie (including me), and the vast majority showed some kind of introverted tendencies. The people who were more extroverted tended to have different objectives for getting the degree, like ensuring they land a good job or pleasing their parents instead of just being interested in code or algorithms.

        • EngineeringGirl

          That is one aspect of ET. If you would have come out of your coding hole you would see the rest of the engineering factions are very social when not studying. I used to recruit and was very active in our ET departments. You have a point when it comes to Electrical and computer engineering/science, but not with all of the other engineering fields.

    • Ceal

      Nick, you are on a key idea for appealing to males and females differently. When you factor in color to the gender variable, more of this kind of differences arises. Check out the http://www.engineeringmessages.org/ research and how to do outreach to young people (and the public) with those ideas in mind! Great point!

  • Jackie

    From my personal experience, it was lack of exposure to computer science. I wish I had any sort of CS course in high school and it may have changed my path. Now I have graduated and working in the IT field and wishing I had gotten a CS degree. Colleagues of mine, all men graduated with CS degrees and from an early age were interested in gaming and whatnot. Their high schools all offered programming courses. I’m wishing I hadn’t spent so much time trying to fit in with all the girls when I could have gotten a head start learning stuff that I’m now interested in.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Video games are what drew me into CS at first. I was a gamer all through my teens. It’d be interesting to see the % of girls who grew up gaming went on to pursue a CS degree.

  • Telshe

    How do you look at this graph and conclude that the most pressing issue is that we need more women in ET?

    The conclusion should be that we need serious affirmative action for men in “health professions”, psychology, public administration and education.

    Also, % instead of absolute numbers hides the sheer number of women getting college degrees.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Please take a look at this follow-up post. I’ve tackled both sides of the issue.

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  • anon

    Part of the problem with Computer Science is as Jackie mentioned. Very few students get exposure to Computer Science in high school. The College Board removed AP Computer Science AB from its curriculum – from my understanding because not enough students were taking it male or female. It’s also my understanding less than 10% of high schoolers in this country have any exposure to Computer Science in high school.

    While schools in more affluent areas probably do have a Computer Science class of some nature (like AP Computer Science A), there are still too few in general. I feel a lot of people who get into CS do so from interest outside of the classroom (gamers, etc). CS so far is largely an elective, and I think men are more likely to choose that elective due to gender stereotypes.

    I know in my freshman CS classes several students were at the disadvantage of not having any prior CS experience with no clue what they were really getting themselves into. They struggled a lot to keep up – some I mentored simply gave up because they couldn’t keep up with the students who had exposure.

    I think a large part of the problem for CS is that there is simply not enough qualified CS instructors at the high school level, CS is considered an elective, and there is very little incentive for people with CS degrees to consider secondary education. Consider the difficulty of teaching, dealing with the politics in the school system, and the fact a qualified instructor would probably be making much more in industry than teaching.

    • Ceal

      Another aspect that hasn’t been talked about is the low numbers of people of color in CS. Check out the findings (Margolis, Estrella, Goode, Holme, & Nao, 2008) about high school students in CS classes in Los Angeles, and using a filter of Black and Latino/a what the researchers found. This book was enlightening and provided ideas for high school curriculum and teacher training to be more inclusive.

      Margolis, J., Estrella, R., Goode, J., Holme, J. J., & Nao, K. (2008). Stuck in the shallow end, education, race, and computing [Kindle on PC edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

  • anon

    My love of CS came from trying to make video games in high school, which was my first exposure to CS. Video games are targeted at males, and mostly males play video games.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Actually, I read a report the other day that had a surprising statistic about this: 45% of all gamers are women. If it’s true that gaming leads people into CS, maybe we have hope for the coming decades.

  • Jack Richards

    I wonder how we can work on increasing the number of male graduates in female dominated professions.

    • ann

      Why? The country has a gap in engineering and tech fields.

      • ann

        Whoops. This was for the poster that wanted more men in psych.

    • Nor

      God yes. Stop them from taking all our tech jobs.

    • Bobby

      You sexist pig!!! Females should outnumber or equal males in all degrees!!

      (sarcasm)

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot.com Steve Sailer

    It looks like the peak percentage for women in computer science was over 30 years ago, so the common explanation of “legacy of discrimination” sounds untenable.

    • Nor

      Well, once the jobs starting becoming lucrative, it was out for the women. Just like welding after the war.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot.com Steve Sailer

    The role of H-1B visas in allowing American employers to substitute foreign men for American women no doubt played a role in diminishing the popularity of Computer Science majors to American women. We would get more American women in programming jobs if we cut back on H-1B visas.

    • Whut

      You’re joking, right?

    • Eric

      “The role of H-1B visas in allowing American employers to substitute foreign for American no doubt played a role in diminishing the popularity of Computer Science majors to American.”

      Fix.

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  • colleen

    The truth is complicated. It starts young. Girls don’t know what they don’t know about CS. My daughter is enrolled in Girls Who Code, which is trying to engage high school girls in computer science in safe nurturing environment. This organization is on a mission to expose young women to what CS is and what it isn’t. You don’t have to be hunched over a computer for the rest of your life – is one of their messages. There are options for women who major is CS. If you can’t communicate the long term career prospects for women then you can’t engage them. It is interesting to me that many of my daughters female friends have no idea about what makes the technology work that they use every single day of their lives.

    I believe that CS should be a required class in freshman year, for all high schools. How sad is it that in this digital age, it is not. :(

    When computer science programs incorporate soft skill training into the course content, i.e. communication, inclusion in a group, importance of teamwork, sexual harassment etc, you will see a change. Women have to see what the possibilities are for them in a field long term. If what they are seeing is a male dominated field, with people who do not communicate well, and who do not welcome them to the table, I don’t blame them for not choosing computer science. Women want to work where they are welcomed, where they can use both right and left brain skills.

    The more women who are in CS and can reach out to younger women and mentor them into programs, the better off we are.

    Additionally, the actual way that the curriculum is being taught needs to be evaluated. Can you combine more experiential learning and case study work into the curriculum? Can you address how the importance in diversity in a classroom only benefits the learning environment?

    My hope for my daughter is that she walks away empowered with knowledge that it is important to understand what CS is. What coding is. What business intelligence is, or how to build an app, or what UI is. This knowledge may encourage her to look at majoring or minoring in CS. At the very least she will gain knowledge about what makes technology work.

    One last note, on the H1-B discussion. We need to look at how to solve our employment challenges in this country and focus on getting people re-deployed into areas like CS, UI, Big Data that are in great need of qualified people. That discussion leads us to education. The bootcamps that are cropping up all over the country are trying to address this labor shortfall, by providing access to education in a short intensified environment and getting people employed, ie Hackbright (my fav because it is all women), hack reactor, etc. Perhaps by offering a vocational solution, this will help to start to turn the tide in addressing in our own country how we can re-train and re-deploy people in technical areas. No – this does not replace a 4 year college degree, but the possibility that you can gain technical skills in different way, without going into further debt in college, is very interesting.

  • Ceal

    Couple of notes: engineering (overall), physics, and computer science have all had graduating rates (through 2011 data) at 20% or lower since 2006, and were higher (engr & CS) in prior years. Women’s graduating rates in engr & CS dropped after 2002 to less than 20%. (I can send graphs if you want them). [from Science and Engineering Degrees: 1966-2011. Detailed Statistical Tables (NSF 11-327) by National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 2013, pp. 52-53, 59, 70, Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf13327. That sources DOES have breakdowns by types of engineering: environmental engr. is almost 50/50. 2011 #s: Aero 13.1; ME 11.3%; Materials Engr. 27.7%; EE 11.2%; Indus. Engr 29.2%; Chem E: 32.4%; Civil 21.0%; Comp Engr 8.7%, Comp SW 7.1%; Bioengr/biomedical engr: 39.3%; Environ. Eng: 44.4%; chemistry 48.8%; physics 19.2%

    Next, check out Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing (Margolis & Fisher, 2002) for ideas on what is happening to drive women out of CS in college and what can be done to reverse the trend. This longitudinal study of women in CS programs at Carnegie Mellon helped CMU move their percentages upward in the 35 – 40% zones consistently.

    Last, the study done by the National Academy of Engineering (2008): Changing the conversation: Messages for improving public understanding of engineering, is worth understanding. Since I’ve been using this in outreach to young people, young women and teens/young adults of color have responded more positively to pursuing careers in engineering. Check out http://www.engineeringmessages.org/

    I’m a retired (~35 years) mechanical engr., just finished a PhD in Education, using this data, research and more to explore one outreach program (robotics) and its influence.

  • http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com Catherine Cronin

    Many thanks for sharing this data and your comments. It’s illuminating to see these relatively current statistics. I’m a qualified engineer, now working in IT and doing research in education. I worked on two research projects in the 1990s exploring the under-representation of women in STEM. Most of these studies showed, as you have illustrated here, that the greatest gender disparities occurred in engineering, IT/computer science, and the physical (rather than biological) sciences.

    Most studies of the under-representation of women in STEM measure women’s participation rates as the proportion of female STEM undergraduates among all STEM undergraduates — as you have illustrated here. Another helpful statistic which we used to supplement this was a “parity index” (i.e. the number of female STEM undergraduates as a proportion of all female undergraduates). The use of a parity index enabled us to express the participation of women in STEM in a way that was not biased by overall increases in women’s participation in higher education nor by variation in the participation rates of men. See Cronin & Rodger (1999) for full description: http://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/xmlui/handle/10379/3807?show=full.

    Though you may find studies which identify male/female differences in mathematical and/or spatial abilities, an overwhelming majority of studies show more variability within male and female groups than between them. In my view, the most convincing explanation to explain persistent female under-representation in IT & STEM (as well as male under-representation in female-dominated fields) is culture. The culture of various disciplines/fields is defined in a way which is highly gendered (i.e. related to masculine and feminine gender roles) which feeds into belief systems, assumptions about abilities, etc. This accounts for the fact that in other countries (e.g. China, Norway, etc.), the number of women in STEM far exceeds that in the US/Europe. For a brief summary of some of this research, please see http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/women-physics/.

    I look forward to keeping in contact with your work as it progresses. Many thanks again.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Thank you for passing these links along, Catherine. What do you see as the most promising path(s) to enact change in our cultures that will make it more culturally acceptable for women to join TE fields? I’ve seen several programs involving pre-teen girls in programming camps etc. over the summer that look very promising. But do they actually work?

      • http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com Catherine Cronin

        I am supportive of all efforts to redress the gender imbalance in TE fields. It is useful to have role model and mentoring programmes, for example, but it is by no means sufficient. There have been role model & mentoring programmes for many years now, without making much of a dent in the proportion of women in STEM/TE. Fewer girls and women choose STEM/TE, and many women leave, at all stages from undergraduate through to later career (i.e. the “leaky pipeline”).

        I’ve found it helpful to conceptualise the under-representation of women in TE this way. Consider 2 equations:
        50% ==> 15%
        50% ==> 85%
        The left side shows the approximate proportions of females and males overall; the right side shows the approximate proportions of females and males in TE fields. Role model and mentoring programmes deal only with the first equation, i.e. the 15% (women engineers/scientists) going to schools, workplaces, clubs, etc. and speaking with girls about STEM. This may encourage girls (at least temporarily) but does nothing to change the culture of schools, academic departments or workplaces. We need the 85% (i.e. men in TE) to work with us to address this issue. And we must address the gendered perceptions of boys too, not just girls. Otherwise, we cannot effect lasting change, i.e. change the gendered culture of TE.

        There have been programmes which have had success in increasing the proportion of women studying TE (e.g. Harvey Mudd College, Carnegie Mellon, etc.). These initiatives focus on inclusive admissions processes, inclusive teaching practices, and a willingness to reflect on the environment and culture within departments and schools. See the ‘Resources’ section in the blog post I shared above (last link in my comment) for some more specific ideas. Hope that is helpful.

  • http://Code.org Hadi Partovi

    One more case where the word “STEM” distracts from where the real problem and opportunity lies, which is Computer Science. If you look at ALL of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), the gender representation is relatively balanced, and so are the number of students relative to jobs. In fact, if you subtract computing from STEM, there is an oversupply of students.

    Whereas if you look at Computer Science and computing/digital/software fields, there is a massive gender imbalanced, and 3x more jobs than students, as this blog suggests.

    On the plus side, the Hour of Code campaign has introduced almost 20M girls to computer science in the past 6 months, and I’m optimistic that we’re seeing the beginning of the end of this imbalance.

  • Soleus

    You describe the Health Professions majors as “nursing, veterinary medicine, dentistry, etc.” If you didn’t separate graduate degrees, certifications, and associates degrees from the undergraduate degrees, then your analysis of the undergraduate trends in Health Professions data is inaccurate.

    From the list of Health Professions majors that you linked on Reddit (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cip=51),
    Medicine (MD), Dentistry (DDS, DMD), Veterinary Medicine (DVM), Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Pharmacy (PharmD), Optometry (OD), Medical Scientist (MD &PhD), Podiatric/Podiatry (DPM), Chiropractic (DC), and Naturopathy (ND) are all doctorates in the US. There are a number of other degrees on the list like Public Health (MPH, DPH), Nursing Science (MS, PhD), Veterinary Biomedical and Clinical Sciences (Cert., MS, PhD), and any Nurse Practitioner degrees (Family Practice Nurse/Nursing, Pediatric Nurse/Nursing, etc.) that are also only offered as graduate degrees and not as a BS/BA. Some other programs on the list like Histology Technician are associates degrees or certifications.

    Before starting graduate school, these health students generally get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field like Biochemistry or Molecular and Cellular Biology; however, depending on the discipline, they can also apply with an unrelated undergraduate degree like Russian Studies as long as they have taken all of the prerequisite undergraduate courses and standardized exams that are required by the graduate program for matriculation. There are also a few universities that offer specialized majors that are designed to include all of the prerequisite courses for particular graduate degrees; these include the bachelor degrees of Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Medicine/Medical, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Veterinary, etc. Several students also hold one or more advanced degrees (MS, MPH, PhD, etc.) before applying to a health related graduate program.

    Although veterinarians actually hold doctorates, you are correct that there are currently more women than men practicing in veterinary medicine. In 2013, 52.9% of veterinarians employed in private clinical practice and 50.2% of veterinarians employed in the public and corporate sector were women (https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-veterinarians.aspx). However, mixing all of the undergraduate and graduate level health degrees is misleading, because although the majority of nurses and nursing students are women, the majority of graduate students and practitioners in the medical and dental fields are not. In 2008, 20% of all active dentists were women, and in 2013, 48.1% of graduating dental students were women (http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Workforce/oralhealthworkforce/2009-Feb-09/1%20-%20Valachovic.ashx & http://www.adea.org/surveys-and-reports/). In 2012, 31.9% of all active US physicians were women (https://members.aamc.org/eweb/upload/State%20Physician%20Workforce%20Data%20Book%202013%20%28PDF%29.pdf). In 2013, 47.2% of matriculating allopathic US medial students were women (https://www.aamc.org/download/321442/data/2013factstable1.pdf). Although women were expected to be awarded 57.2% of all B.A. and B.S. degrees nationally, a lower percentage of female college graduates applied to medical school than male graduates (2.2% of all female college graduates applied vs. 3.2% of all male college graduates) and in 2011-2012, 47.3% of all medical school applicants were women (https://www.aamc.org/download/153708/data/charts1982to2012.pdf).

    Here are some additional statistics concerning nursing:

    – “In 2011, 9 percent of all nurses were men while 91 percent were women. Men earned, on average, $60,700 per year, while women earned $51,100 per year…Even among men and women in the same nursing occupations, men outearned women. Women working as nurses full‐time, year‐round earned 91 cents for every dollar male nurses earned.” (U.S. Census Bureau, February 2013: http://www.census.gov/people/io/files/Men_in_Nursing_Occupations.pdf)

    – “In terms of gender breakdown, men comprised 11.0% of students in baccalaureate programs, 10.0% of master’s students, 7.9% of research-focused doctoral students, and 10.0% of practice-focused doctoral students. Though nursing schools have made strides in recruiting and graduating nurses that reflect the patient population, more must be done before equal representation is realized.” (http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/enhancing-diversity)

  • Richard

    I have a number of undergraduate and advanced Degrees, one of which is an Engineering subject (Petroleum) and none of which is Computer Science.

    Of all the Degrees I do have, Engineering has been the least intellectually rewarding. I have chosen not to study Computer Science as I regard it as a subject that solves uninteresting problems relative to the universe of all problems that can or must be solved (health, social policy, education, food, – the >50% subjects in your data).

    Whether you agree or disagree with my view is irrelevant. That fact that I hold that view is sufficient to show that there are plausible explananatory factors other than discrimination for Bachelor Degree choice.

    You state that the US needs more skilled programmers, without noting that it also needs more skilled health workers, public administrators, teachers, and farmers. You state gender disparity as a Computer Science “problem”, without explaining why the configuration of the genitals of Computer Scientists is harmful to the goals of Compter Science.

    Could it not be that women reject Computer Science simply because they have better judgement about what society needs, and what they might find fulfilling when they come to look back at their contribution to making the world a better place? If so, then doesn’t the data better suggest that we need to encourage more men to select subjects *other* than Computer Science and Engineering?

    • Bill Keating

      It is a myth that their is a shortage of programmers in this country. I was a programmer with a Masters in CS for twenty five years and I was eased into early retirement, with age a major factor.

      The US has a plentiful supply of programmers Indian and Russian. Here in the US or offshore. Since programming does not require good language or cultural skills, programmers that speak limited English but are fine in sitting in front of a computer writing lines of code have all the qualifications needed.

      The following is the absolute truth. I interviewed with a Manhattan company whose entire programming staff of seven were Russian. And only two of them spoke English good enough to interview me.

      Add to the equation that foreign programmers whose work is just as good as domestic programmers, but are paid significantly less, and you can see why they are welcome in this country. The officers may be mostly Americans, but the foreigners are excellent infantry.

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  • Anon

    What’s wrong with the idea that men and women are different and as such have different ambitions and goals? Must we continue to micro-analyze every little bit of society until we have the exact politically-correct proportions in everything?

    Or if we did manage to get women to occupy 50% of the Computer Science degrees, would the next step to be to get the right mix of Hispanic women, lesbians, left-handed women, etc?

    Enough already.

    • Nor

      Women used to have plenty of jobs in tech – writing software was a traditionally female job – men did hardware. Until it became clear the money was in software, and women got pushed out. The term “computer” is a description of a traditionally female job, like secretary. It referred to the person who operated the machine, who were overwhelmingly female in the beginning.

      I know it sounds nice to you to keep all the high paying jobs specifically for men, especially white men, but everyone else thinks that’s a bad idea. I’m sure they’re just being selfish.

      • Ali_Bertarian

        Nor wrote: “writing software was a traditionally female job – men did hardware.”

        I had programming jobs in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Men always dominated. Whether in 3-person or 9 person shops, there was never more than one female programmer. In my first job at Lockheed in the late 70s, the old-timers were all male except for one, so that means the jobs in the 60s were probably held mostly by males.

        The same pattern held for the computer classes I took in the 70s, 80s, and 90s: less than 20% female.

      • Hippiefreak

        You wrote:
        “The term ‘computer’ is a description of a traditionally female job, like secretary. It referred to the person who operated the machine, who were overwhelmingly female in the beginning.”

        Can you provide your best supporting information for that, please? I find it interesting and if I ever repeat it or inquire about it, I may be asked to source it.
        Thank you.

        • Mary

          Go read up on the “Harvard Computers”. Google is a fantastic tool.

          • Hippiefreak

            I found that the term ‘computer’ originated as early as 1613 and referred to people, both men and women, as well as objects that performed this function, such as the 1902 book ‘Screw Propeller Computer’. An 1894 reference from the US. Naval Observatory listed several men as computers. In astronomy, it was a temporary position for men until they advanced, and women generally were not allowed the job of computing until Pickering at Harvard University came along and hired a number of women. With men drafted to fight in WWII many of the computers were women. The world’s first professional computer programmers were women, selected from this group of computers. Pretty interesting stuff. But I can’t conclude the job was traditionally female.

  • Eric.L.fr

    No data about Earth & planetary sciences (geosciences) or astronomy-astrophysics ?

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      IIRC all of those are grouped into “Physical Sciences.”

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  • http://www.garfieldtech.com/ Larry Garfield

    Another interesting data point:

    When I was in grad school for Comp Sci (c.2002-2005), one of my classes noted the breakdown of people in graduate programs at our school. We had about 6 different graduate programs under the umbrella of the College of Computer Science, one of the largest programs in the country. Software Engineering was almost 100% male. (I think there were 1-2 women in the entire program.) Human-Computer Interaction, however, was majority women by a wide margin. (I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I think it was > 55%.)

    So even within the Comp Sci umbrella there is a wide spread of where gender disparity lies.

    (My undergraduate major, at the same school, was in Human-Computer Interaction, because I didn’t want to get “stuck” being “just a programmer”. Turns out I liked being a programmer, so I switched to straight CS for grad school and finished wishing I’d done Software Engineering. Go figure.)

  • http://avoiceformalestudents.com Jonathan Taylor

    Thanks for this graph and analysis, Randy. I have written an article citing your work here:

    http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com/the-but-men-get-the-majority-of-stem-degrees-deflection-wearing-thinner-as-time-goes-on/

    I also use some of this data to address the arguments of Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, who – I believe – is from your same university.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Nice write-up, thank you for elaborating on the points I tried to make here.

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  • John M

    It seems we have several gender gaps. In most of them, there are too many women. What should we do to close those gender gaps? We have a glaring gap in health professions, for example.

    And if you have more women in some things, you have to have fewer in others.

    • Nor

      You could pay more. Men are in the higher paying fields – raise the salaries of low paying traditionally female jobs and the men will follow.

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  • Literally Hitler

    “Provided that far more women attend college than men”
    #Not a problem

    “Health Professions (85% women): nursing assistant, veterinary assistant, dental assistant, etc.
    Public Administration (82%): social work, public policy, etc.
    Education (79%): pre-K, K-12, higher education, etc.
    Psychology (77%): cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, etc.”
    #Not a problem

    “Only ~15% of the CS degrees were conferred to women.”
    #PROBLEM!!

  • G

    “Surprisingly to me, most of the STEM majors aren’t doing as bad gender disparity-wise as I expected. 40-45% of the degrees in Math, Statistics, and the Physical Sciences were conferred to women in 2012. Even better, a majority of Biology degrees in 2012 (58%) were earned by women. ”

    So the more degrees conferred to women in a given subject the ‘better’ it is doing?

    We need to do something about the fact women aren’t entering computer science but the fact males are underrepresented in the majority of all fields isn’t an issue worth a mention?

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson
    • M.B.

      You’ve got to be kidding me. Let’s help those poor male students that are slightly underrepresented in biology but extremely overrepresented in engineering and computer science? Have you thought that the disparity may be because those male students are mostly in T and E and not in SM?

    • Nor

      If they want to exchange the higher paying opportunities they’ve got and go into poorer paying traditionally female fields, they are more than welcome, as long as they don’t mind if we take their sweet sweet tech jobs.

    • Lightnin Purple Skittle

      Author must not know the defintion of STEM, as psychology is in fact, a stem major…

      http://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2014/stem-list.pdf

  • Bill Keating

    Perhaps you should take the women’s desertion of computer science at face value: that they were pushed into that profession by people like you and, when they discovered that computer programming involved many tedious and solitary hours staring into a computer monitor with few chances for socialization over the course of the day, they gave you a polite “No, thank you” and returned to professions which they found more enjoyable.

    • Larry Garfield

      What programming job do you have? I’ve been a professional developer for a decade, and I am talking to people all the bloody time. :-) Colleagues, clients… I long for long stretches of “solitary hours staring into a computer monitor”. Those are rare.

      • Bill Keating

        I worked for companies including Phoenix Technology and Symbol Technologies where we stayed until 6:30 every day writing and testing code in an attempt to keep our projects on schedule. We did have an hour for lunch, though.

        • Nor

          They outsourced all the coding jobs.

          I think you’d have a hard argument to make trying to say that women don’t want flex hours and the ability to work from home high paying jobs. Boring would be fine if it meant you got to have kids.

    • andrea

      Women eschewing computer science correlates with the uptake of home computers, interestingly enough: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding

  • Nancy Ouyang

    i was at the open source hardware summit last year, where i first learned about the 40%ish peak in CS in the 1980s, and there was a provocative talk about the role of media in this shift: http://vimeo.com/81481624

  • Bill Keating

    According to many sources, but I’ll use CBS news from a year ago, “in 2013, 25-34 year old women were 21 percent more likely than men to be college graduates and 48 percent more likely to have completed graduate school”

    So this news item was of course devoted to showing great concern that so many fewer men were receiving the most basic tool needed to elevate their profession and their income?

    Yeah, right. It was dedicated to the fact that women earn 78 percent of what men make. and it proceeded to wrestle with complicated reasons for this difference and how we might correct them. Then it does mention one other possible explanation:

    “Yet past gaps in education and experience appear to be contributing to a persistent pay gap between the sexes, a new report shows.”
    Oh wow, we never thought of that. The women might be earning less because we are comparing men who have been in the legal profession for 30 years with women who stand at 10 years.

    And they’ll still tell you that only explains part of it. Well, there are other subtle reasons such as women working less hours and taking more leaves for having and caring for children.

    The real reason for playing up the difference in pay and the under-representation of women in certain fields such as engineering is that this brings you research grant money, political donations, and media attention.

    And believe me, men just ridicule articles like these.

    What we need to start looking at men’s problems with equality rather than women’s is another little war like Vietnam and an accompanying draft. You never heard a word about the Equal Rights Amendment until the end of the war and the draft. What sensible woman would want an equal right to be shipped to a jungle on the opposite side of the world and have an equal chance of impaling herself on a poisoned punji stick.
    ( Really, I’m not quite that bad. The last paragraph was tongue-in-cheek. Honest.)

    • Nor

      Affirmative action in many colleges in the US is currently slanted in favor of male applicants. It simply isn’t enough to stem the tide. It turns out when a college degree matters more to your personal income, and you are less likely to earn as much due to gender or race, you are far more motivated to academically excel.

      If you’d like it to be even easier for men to get into college, you best hope the Supreme Court doesn’t find for that white lady in Texas with her anti-affirmative action suit. She’d best hope not either. If they drop the affirmative action for American citizens too there won’t be more than a handful of US students at any top school in this country.

      P.S. The reason why they don’t draft women is that they don’t want us all getting pregnant to avoid the draft. It would bankrupt the state to care for that many orphans/poor kids.

  • Miles Bedinger

    I love how when you mention “health professions” you use “nursing assistant, veterinary assistant, dental assistant” rather than nurse, vet, and dentist. Clearly you respect the health profession as a major. It’s not like you’re trying to make the health profession look bad so your argument about unfair bachelors doesn’t look impotent.

    While we’re at it, shouldn’t we be trying to get more men into health professions? I mean, it’s only 15% men, while 20% of ET are women. That fact is just glossed over? Clearly an impartial report aimed at equality.

    • http://www.randalolson.com/ Randy Olson

      I have “assistant” appended to all of those professions because one cannot become a full nurse, vet, etc. with just a Bachelor’s degree. Those professions require a Master’s degree or higher.

      In regards to your second paragraph, see this post: http://www.randalolson.com/2014/06/15/the-double-edged-sword-of-gender-equality/

      • Miles Bedinger

        I see your intent, but as a masters of psychology, I can tell you probably wouldn’t become a clinical psychologist with a bachelor. And I doubt you could teach higher education with just a bachelor.

        As for the second post, thanks for representing us social science males. My masters was 4 guys and 20 women.

      • Erin

        “because one cannot become a full nurse, vet, etc. with just a Bachelor’s degree.”

        Uh, no they don’t. You do not even need a Bachelors degree to be a registered nurse. Some facilities (magnet ones) require it, but you can be a nurse without a bachelors degree, and a vet doesn’t require a masters either.

        And no, i’m not referring to the LVN/LPN either.

  • http://myassignmenthelpaustralia.blogspot.com/ assignment help australia

    Well, there are just many men who like to study about computer science even if there are a lot of things to memorize. Thus, other college majors may just fit to the taste of a women that is why they more prefer to have that particular course rather than taking any computer related courses.

  • Bobby

    Why is this a problem?

    Women don’t like CS or aren’t as good at it as men due to men’s inherent visual spatial advantage.

    Nobody seems to care that women are earning 2/3’s of all degrees while men keep falling further behind.

  • kofybean

    How is it possibly “discrimination against women” when men outnumber women in STEM degrees? But not Discrimination against men, when women outnumber men in total degrees?

  • R Bonwell parker

    Actually, my guess is that there just weren’t very many people going into CE at all until the late 1980s, at which point all the money-chasers started getting CE degrees, almost all of whom are male.

  • hetz

    “it seems the best way to meet the U.S.’s growing need for skilled programmers and engineers is to focus on recruiting more women — of any race or ethnicity — into Computer Science and Engineering majors”

    But women do not, on average, possess nearly as much aptitude for these fields as men, nor seemingly do most of them want to work in such fields. Why are differences between genders and races always seen as a problem to be “fixed”?

  • Fred

    The problem in your society is clearly not discrimination against
    women, but DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MEN.
    Yet that’s not worth doing anything about, is it.
    And YOU, yes YOU, are causing it.
    You’re not even a man … you’re a mere “male”, like countless
    millions of other “males” in your sorry nation …
    For 1 male = 1/2 man + 1/2 woman … a hybrid virtually non-
    distinguishable from a female, saved for his genitalia.

About this blog

The data visualizations on this blog are the result of my “data tinkering” hobby, where I tackle a new data analysis problem every week. If I find something interesting, I report my findings here to share with the world.

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