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FYI Number 142: October 28, 2004

NSF Report on Gender and Academic Scientists' Careers

The National Science Foundation has just published a report which found evidence "that female scientists and engineers are less successful than their male counterparts in traveling along the academic career path." The statistical analysis examined four "critical outcomes" in arriving at this conclusion: "tenure-track placement, earning tenure, promotion to the rank of associate professor, and promotion to the rank of full professor."

This 173-page report, "Gender Differences in the Careers of Academic Scientists and Engineers," was written by the Division of Science Resources Statistics of NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. Dated June 2004, the report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf04323/pdfstart.htm

Over 100 pages of this report consist of detailed statistical tables, obtained from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, a survey made every two years of only those individuals receiving science and engineering doctorates in the United States. The survey includes information on the recipient's degree, career outcome, and a range of personal characteristics. By analyzing this data, it was possible to "test hypotheses about whether being married or having children affects the careers of women and men differently." Note that the analysis was made only of doctorate recipients in academic positions.

Selections from the report's findings follow:

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:

"We find evidence that female scientists and engineers are less successful than their male counterparts in traveling along the academic career path. Some of this disparity appears to be related to differences between the sexes in the influence of family characteristics. Typically, married women and women with children are less successful than men who are married and have children. Our estimates of gender differences in success rates are relatively insensitive to characteristics of academic employers and to primary work activity."

TENURE-TRACK PLACEMENT:

"After accounting for controls, women with eight or nine years of postdoctoral experience who are employed full-time in academia are about 3.3 percentage points less likely than men to be employed in tenure-track positions. The comparable estimate for women with 14 or 15 years of experience is about 4.5 percentage points. If we allow for gender differences in the influence of family characteristics, gender differences in tenure-track placements are statistically insignificant. Our estimates suggest that being married or having children reduces women's chances to be employed in tenure-track positions relative to men who are married or have children."

TENURE:

"After accounting for controls, women with eight or nine years of postdoctoral experience who are employed full time in academia are about 6.9 percentage points less likely than men to be tenured. The comparable estimate for women with 14 or 15 years of experience is about 8.5 percentage points. When we restrict our analysis to tenure-track positions only, women with eight or nine years of postdoctoral experience are about 5.9 percentage points less likely than men to be tenured. The comparable estimate for women with 14 or 15 years of experience is about 4.1 percentage points.

"Our analysis suggests that women's chances for earning tenure are related to the influence of family characteristics. In most of the models we estimated, gender differences in tenure rates are statistically insignificant when we allow for gender differences in the influence of family characteristics. Having young children later in their careers is positively related to women's chances for earning tenure. We interpret this as indirect evidence suggesting that women who do not have children early in their careers increase their chances for earning tenure."

ACADEMIC RANK:

"Our Phase I analysis examined the likelihood that individuals will be employed in any one of three different academic ranks - junior ranks, rank of associate professor, and rank of full professor - at specific points in their postdoctoral careers. We found that, after accounting for controls, women with 14 or 15 years of postdoctoral experience who are employed full-time in academia are about 8 percentage points more likely than men to be employed in junior ranks. The estimate for women with 20 or 21 years of postdoctoral experience is similar. After accounting for controls, women with 14 or 15 years of postdoctoral experience who are employed full-time in academia are almost 14 percentage points less likely than men to be employed at the rank of full professor. The comparable estimate for women with 20 or 21 years of postdoctoral experience is similar. Our analysis suggests some of the gender differences in academic rank are related to differential influences of family characteristics. For example, if we allow for gender differences in the influence of family variables, the relative difference in employment at the full-professor rank for full-time academicians with 20 or 21 years of postdoctoral experience falls to about 7 percentage points, but it remains statistically significant.
Gender differences in academic rank decline if we exclude from our samples doctorate recipients who reported employment in nontenure-track positions. This finding is consistent with our Phase I tenure analysis, which shows that women are more likely than men to be employed in these positions.

"The Phase II rank analysis estimated differences between women and men in the likelihood of doctorate recipients holding either the associate- or full-professor rank at any given time in their postdoctoral careers. Most of our Phase II findings are consistent with the results of our Phase I rank analysis. The Phase II rank analysis indicates that, after accounting for controls, women are less likely than men to be promoted to senior ranks. We also find that after allowing for gender differences in the influence of family characteristics, gender differences in promotions to the full-professor rank are statistically insignificant. We are concerned, however, that the data we used in our Phase II analysis overstate the relative amount of time it takes men to earn promotions, causing us to understate gender differences in promotion rates in the Phase II analyses."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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