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FYI Number 35: March 22, 2005

New Report on Women in Physics and Astronomy

The percentage of women holding faculty positions in physics and astronomy is consistent with the percentage of women who earned degrees in those fields in the past, according to a new report by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics. "The most provocative thing about this report is the finding that women are not under-represented on physics and astronomy faculties, as most people assume," said Dr. Rachel Ivie, the study's author. Consideration of the "lag time" between degrees and later stages of employment is "an important part of the picture," the report points out. "Without considering lag time," it says, "we are left with erroneous conclusions about what the distribution of women faculty members ‘should' be without enough information about what the available pool of women is."

The report, "Women in Physics and Astronomy, 2005," released in February, looks at the percentages of women who take physics and astronomy in college, graduate with degrees and are employed as faculty members. It finds that the numbers of women entering physics and physics-related sciences are increasing. However, they are entering physics more slowly than other fields of science, and women are still in the minority.

"Examination of the academic ‘pipeline' reveals that women disproportionately leave physics between taking it in high school and earning a bachelor's degree," the report states. "While almost half of high school physics students are girls, less than one-fourth of bachelor's degrees in physics are earned by women. After this initial ‘leak' in the pipeline, women are represented at about the levels we would expect based on degree production in the past. There appears to be no leak in the pipeline at the faculty level in either physics or astronomy."

The report finds the representation of women in physics and astronomy continuing to increase at all levels. "At the high school level, almost half of physics students are girls. During 2003, women earned 22% of the bachelor's degrees in physics and 18% of the PhDs in physics - a record high," the report says. "In astronomy in 2003, women earned 46% of bachelor's degrees and 26% of PhDs." But physics is not attracting women as quickly as other fields. "At the PhD level," the report continues, "biological sciences, chemistry, and mathematics all show faster rates of increase for women earning PhDs than physics does. The exception is engineering, which has increased at about the same rate as physics."

According to the report, women make up "10% of the faculty members in degree granting physics departments. In stand-alone astronomy departments, the percentage of women faculty members is 14%. In addition, women are better represented at departments that do not grant graduate degrees and in the lower ranks of the faculty." The report also finds that "women still earn less than men, even when they have the same years of experience and work in the same sector."

AIP's Statistical Research Center collects and maintains data, and produces reports, on a broad range of education, workforce and demographic issues within the physics and astronomy communities. The full text of this report (AIP Publication No. R-430.02) is available at: http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/gendertrends.html. Other Statistical Research Center reports can be found at http://www.aip.org/statistics/.

Martha Heil
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3088

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