Women Earn More PhDs than Men Do—Time to Rejoice?

It was a “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” moment at the Council of Graduate Schools, which reports that last year the number the number of women receiving doctoral degrees exceeded the number of men with newly minted Ph.D.’s for the first time in U.S. academic history. In 2009, according to the council’s report dated September 14, women received 50.4 percent of all doctoral degrees awarded in the U.S.: 28,962 in comparison to men’s 28,469.
This represents the culmination of a long-term trend, in which females, who represent a slight majority of the population (51 percent) have come to represent a definitive majority of all students pursuing higher education, from freshman year to doctoral hood. Undergraduate college enrollment is now 57 percent female and graduate-program enrollment 58.9 percent female. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, women received 60 percent of all master’s degrees awarded in 2009 (ninety percent of all advanced degrees awarded these days are master’s degrees).
The current 3-2 women-to-men ratio at all levels of higher education, coupled with the fact that even the Ph.D. is no longer a male bastion, has been a cause for great rejoicing in some feminist academic circles. Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State University in Washington, told Newsweek that the new figures from the Council of Graduate Schools represented the final nail in the coffin of the “PhT’ or “putting husband through” syndrome in which college-educated women used to sacrifice their own intellectual aspirations in order to support their husbands through graduate school. There was also predictable feminist grousing. Catherine Hill, director of research for the American Association of University Women, complained to Newsweek that while women may be receiving the majority of Ph.D.’s, they are still a distinct minority in the ranks of tenured professors. Hill expressed hope that universities would equalize the tenured gender ratios by adopting “family-friendly” policies that give parents raising children extra time to produce the scholarship that is typically a prerequisite for a promotion to tenured rank.


What neither the cheerleaders nor the complainers seem to recognize is that the feminization of postgraduate education—to the point that there are now 142 women enrolled in graduate school for every hundred men–represents the culmination of several disturbing trends. The first is that men still vastly outnumber women as recipients of doctoral degrees in all academic fields based upon mathematics and hard science. Men received 78 percent of engineering doctorates in 2009, 73 percent of doctorates in mathematics and computer science, and 67 percent of degrees in the physical sciences (physics, chemistry, geology, and so forth). A clear majority of business doctorates—61 percent—also went to men. The only scientific fields in which new female Ph.D.’s or Ph.D.-equivalents outnumbered males were the biological and agricultural sciences, where women received 51 percent of doctorates to men’s 49 percent.
Doctorates for women in 2009 tended to be clustered in traditionally female-dominated fields such as education (67 percent) and health sciences (70 percent), an umbrella classification that includes nursing, public health, geriatrics, and the like. Female Ph.D.s (or Ph.D.-equivalents) also predominated in fields where quantitative skills are not a prerequisite: arts and the humanities (slightly over 50 percent of doctorates), social and behavioral sciences (60 percent), and public administration, which trains people for government jobs (62 percent). While it may be derogatory to characterize the above fields as “softer” or less intellectually rigorous than mathematics or the hard sciences, the fact remains that none of them demands a level of mastery of mathematics or a capacity for abstract reasoning that approaches the demands of physics or chemistry. And they are the fields in which female graduate students are enrolling in ever-increasing numbers.
Second, all of the above fields have proved to be far more susceptible to infiltration by feminist, Marxist, deconstructionist, and other left-of-center ideologies than the hard sciences. “Cultural studies,” a kind of Marxist analysis that views artistic expression as a means of social control by elites is now the dominant mode of thinking in English departments. The revolution-promoting ideas of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian pedagogical theorist who believed that traditional teaching methods oppressed the poor, are impossible to escape in many graduate-level education programs. It may be that women are peculiarly susceptible to intellectual fads in general and to fashionable leftist ideology in particular, or it may be that there are simply more of them in the less quantitatively-based academic fields that are responsible for the lion’s share of doctorates these days. (Three times as many graduate students in education and public administration and twice as many graduate students in the social sciences are female as male, according to Council of Graduate Schools statistics.) Whatever the reason, the feminization of post-graduate education has gone hand in hand with the hijacking of entire academic specialties by leftist ideologues.
Lastly, the growing female-favoring gender imbalance in higher-level academia is bound to lead to an exodus of men, an exodus that is already evident in the fact that out of eleven graduate fields of study counted by the council in its Sept. 14 report, men are underrepresented in seven. Men are already a distinct minority of undergraduates, and now it seems, they are also a distinct minority of those who want to devote their lives to research and teaching about Shakespeare or the Napoleonic Wars. Yet, as Mark Perry, an economic and finance professor at the University of Michigan’s management school, wrote recently on his blog Carpe Diem, “nobody will refer to this gender graduate school enrollment gap as a ‘crisis.’ Perry continued: “But what will get media attention is that women are underrepresented in four of the 11 fields of graduate study like engineering and computer science, which can likely be traced to some kind of overt or unexamined gender discrimination.” Yes, academia has come a long way toward encouraging women to join its highest ranks, and it’s possible that it has gone too far.

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.