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Friday, July 28, 2006

Women in Philosophy: Where Did They Go?

It is well-known that there are very few women in philosophy compared to men. In 1997 Sally Haslanger compiled some data that showed the "percentage distribution of full-time and part-time instructional faculty and staff in institutions of higher education by program area, race/ethnicity, and sex". In 1992 there were approximately 87% male philosophers and 13% female philosophers in academic jobs. In 1992-3, 199 men and 67 women received a doctoral degree in philosophy. In other words, approximately 25% of those who received a doctoral degree in philosophy in 1992-3 were women. The data seem to suggest one of two things: either the number of women in philosophy was increasing, or female philosophers disappeared from the philosophy scene once they had received their Ph.D. So which is it? Well, the percentage of women who receive a Ph.D. in philosophy has indeed been increasing:

2004: 33.3 %
2003: 27.1 %
2002: 25.3 %
2001: 25.2 %
2000: 28.4 %
1999: 24.8 %
1998: 29.4 %
1997: 26.0 %

And so has the percentage of female full-time and part-time faculty in philosophy. But the percentage of women who disappear from the scene is still much higher than the percentage of men who disappear. That is rather puzzling. I am not sure what explains it. Perhaps low salaries and instability play a role. In 1992 female full-time faculty in philosophy averaged lower salaries than male full-time faculty by approximately $10,000. Women were also less likely to get tenure and to become full professors. However, I suspect that cannot be the whole explanation. Though we can only speculate, I would like to hear what you think explains the imbalance.

14 comments:

Carrie Jenkins said...

One thing I'm suspicious of is the explanation that women leave because the profession isn't kind to those who want to start families. I mean, that's no explanation - it neglects the fact that men are kind of involved in the whole family-creation process. :)

*If* it is *part* of the explanation, the full explanation must be something like: women leave because the profession isn't kind to those who want to be primary carers for children and women are more likely than men to be primary carers for children. This type of explanation would illuminate the (putative) need to understand why that's so, and whether, taking into account the answer to that question, it is the responsibility of universities to offer better childcare support in order to try and improve the gender balance.

(Of course, regardless of how that issue goes, it could be that universities ought to offer childcare support to help retain people of both sexes who have families. I guess that's my own view.)

unenlightened said...

I've no idea how the figures compare with other disciplines, but my suspicion is that men unconsciously conspire to keep women in an inferior position. (Perhaps they conspire with women) Philosophy, being a subject that is able to have its influence in any department is a strategic stronghold in the dominance game. (Here's a shot at goal: Do philosophers ever {not} try to score points against each other?) Being male, I always maintain that men are in charge because that's the way women have arranged things - perhaps they have better things to do than spend their lives arguing the toss...

Brit Brogaard said...

"women leave because the profession isn't kind to those who want to be primary carers for children and women are more likely than men to be primary carers for children."

That seems right to me. I think other factors may play a role as well. I mentioned possible salary differences and fear of not getting tenure. I don't know whether women are still less likely than men to get tenure but they were back in 1992. There is also the possibility that women are less likely to get a job after graduate school, in spite of equal opportunity and affirmative action policies.

I do not think "men are in charge because that's the way women have arranged things". Rather, "we" teach young women to think and behave differently from men, and then later, "we" expect the very same women to behave like men if they want to be respected in the profession.

Mike said...

2004: 33.3 %
2003: 27.1 %
2002: 25.3 %
2001: 25.2 %
2000: 28.4 %
1999: 24.8 %
1998: 29.4 %
1997: 26.0 %

Brit, this doesn't seem to show that the percentage of women receiving PhD's is increasing or I guess I don't see it. For instance, since 1998, there has been just one year with a larger percentage (since 1997, about half). Wouldn't you read that as no trend or a trend in the other direction? Looking at it a different way, the average for the first four years listed is about equal to the average for the last four.

Brit Brogaard said...

I was taking the 33.3% to be an indicator of an increase (overall). But you're right that there is another way of looking at it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any numbers for 2005. Maybe they are not available yet. If you're right that the number of women in philosophy is decresing, then that's a huge problem that certainly merits discussion.

Robbie said...

Hi Brit,

I wasn't sure about one thing: have we got figures for the percentage of new faculty hired who are women? Otherwise, you might put the distribution of the faculty as a whole down to historical imbalances (esp. if, as you suggest, the percentage of women getting phds is increasing).

Similarly, since senior faculty will be by and large older than junior faculty, would be interesting to see age-related comparison of percentages male/female in senior positions. (Maybe it was this kind of data you were working from?).

Not at all sure what this sort of explanation is plausible, but the stats would be interesting... Doesn't make the figures any prettier reading, obviously

cheers
R

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

From what I've seen at Berkeley and Riverside (without hard statistics on this), there's a higher attrition rate for women in graduate programs as well. The explanation is surely multi-causal. One factor, besides families, might be that men look and speak more stereotypically like philosophers. And looking and speaking "like a philosopher" may have a considerable effect on how one is perceived. I recall one case in particular of a student who just had the affect, tone, gestures, and appearance of a philosopher down pat. His comments in seminars and at talks weren't all that good, but everyone seemed impressed with him, without really knowing why, I suspect!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

P.S. -- This student eventually turned out to be excellent, by the way. It's possible that others were seeing something in him that I didn't, but actually I suspect it's more likely the Pygmalion Effect -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_effect -- his rising to the level of others' expectations!

Sally Haslanger said...

Brit: where did you get your current data for the number of current full-time and part-time women in philosophy (your point just after the list of stats for PhD's)? Do you know what the current numbers are and what they've been for the past 10 years or so? I don't have that data.
--Sally

Brit Brogaard said...

Robbie: you're right. I do not have any numbers for 2005. I do not think they are available, though I am new to the world of statistics (Of course, I could count them myself :-) If they are not available, then we will inevitably be looking at historical imbalances. But isn't that the case anywhere? For example, graduate students look at "historical" rankings of departments when they choose where to go.

Eric: that's an interesting factor. I have often thought about that stereotype before giving talks. At best, I will sound like a female version of Kirkegaard.

Sally: the newest data I have are from 2004. I will send you what I have. The actual numbers I listed are summarized here

Robbie said...

Hi Brit

Apologies for being unclear: I wasn't complaining that you didn't have the 2005 figures! What I was worried about is that we were comparing grad student percentages from 97-04 with overall faculty percentages, presumably featuring people hired from the sixties forward.

Here's the sort of situation I was worried we couldn't rule out on the figures given. Suppose (implausibly) the male/female ratio of new hires each year for the past century were in direct proportion to the male/female ratio of grad students coming out that year (so at least at first glance there'd be no bias). Further suppose (implausibly) that the male/female ratio of grad students was 9:1 each year until 1997, when they switch to the proportions you mention, about 7:3. Then a snapshot in 2004 of the male/female ratio of overall faculty will give a figure that's significantly worse than 7:3, because faculty ratio in part reflects who was hired pre-1997, when (ex hypothesi) the male/female ratio of grad students was more imbalanced.

I thought that the comparison that avoids this would be to compare percentage of grad students coming out in year x to percentage of new faculty hired in year x, for whichever x's we can get the stats. I didn't think that was what you were recording (apologies if I've got that wrong).

Alan said...

Perhaps women are just more focussed psychologically on acheivable goals that represent a genuine increase in happiness.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks, Robbie. That makes sense. For some reason I have a lot of trouble finding the kind of numbers you are talking about (e.g., the number of female philosophers hired in, say, 2004). I wonder whether they are available.

Brit Brogaard said...

Alan: maybe that is right. But I suspect it is not. I suspect that it is rather difficult for women to get an academic job in philosophy, in spite of equal opportunity and affirmative action policies. Of course, I am only speculating, but I have been on hiring committees myself, and it certainly didn't seem that anyone cared much about the universities' equal opportunity and affirmative action policies.