Exploring Gender Imbalance Among STEM Doctoral Degree Recipients

Andrew Gillen

Gender imbalance in doctoral education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields raises important questions about the extent to which women experience differential access, encouragement, and opportunity for academic advancement. Through primary school and middle school, girls and boys typically indicate an equal interest and demonstrate equivalent levels of achievement on several science and mathematical indicators, but girls’ interest in pursuing scientific degrees and careers wanes by high school.

Accurately identifying the nature of the imbalance is an important first step in addressing it. The alternate method used in this brief to account for the gender breakdown among undergraduate degree recipients provides a more reliable gauge of gender imbalance at the  doctoral level.

Key results from using this alternate method are as follows:

  • Men are overrepresented in about three quarters of academic fields and women are overrepresented in about one quarter of academic fields.
  • STEM fields are slightly more gender-balanced than non-STEM fields.
  • Among STEM fields, and often in contrast to conventional wisdom, biological and biomedical sciences and the physical sciences show the greatest overrepresentation of males and engineering was roughly gender-balanced.

This brief is one in a series produced by AIR to promote research, policy, and practice related to broadening the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM doctoral education and the workforce.