September 14 2010

More Doctorates Going to Women

Sabrina Schaeffer

The Washington Post ran an interesting story this morning about a new study that finds more women than men are receiving Ph.D’s. According to the findings collected by the Council of Graduate Schools, in the 2008-9 academic year, “28,962 [doctoral degrees] went to women and 28,469 to men.”

The article mentions that women have been outperforming men at the undergraduate and master’s level for years now. And as I’ve written about before, women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 59 percent of master’s degrees.  But this shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of the thousands of women who are now receiving their Ph.D.’s, as well.

Unfortunately, the WaPo continues to see the glass of gender parity as half-full. “Women who aspired to become college professors,” the reporters write, “were hindered by the particular demands of faculty life. Studies have found that the tenure clock often collides with the biological clock.  The busiest years of the academic career are the years that well-educated women tend to have children.”

As someone who spent two years in the doctoral program for history at the University of Virginia (before choosing to pursue a different path), I was particularly bothered by this attitude. As far as I can tell, I don’t think women’s biology interferes with female academics any more than it does with female doctors, lawyers, actresses, or politicians, for instance. The fact is, there are certain things we just can’t change – and when our bodies are ready for reproduction is one of them.

The Post adds, “women and girls make up 51 percent of the U.S. population. But women have not conquered every corridor of the ivory tower. Men still hold the majority of faculty and administration positions. Women earn less than men at every level of academic rank.” Well, this is an unfortunate way of looking at women’s choices.

Perhaps the reporters at the WaPo should take a step back and look at the larger picture.  As I wrote about earlier this year for The Weekly Standard, there is broad reaching consensus among researchers writing about women in academics that women “are in a better professional position today than fifty years ago, and that they expect to see even more success in the future.”

Perhaps instead of lamenting all the ways that women still lag behind, the Post should have considered this very poignant statistic: Between 1966 and 2004, the percentage of women completing a PhD went from 5.8 percent to 30.3 percent. Not exactly peanuts.

Balancing a professional career – of any type – with motherhood can be difficult, but let’s not allow women’s choices to be mislabeled as gender inequality.

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