As a woman in science myself, I have to say I don’t 100% buy this argument:
Most people go to work primarily in order to earn a paycheck. Workers prefer a higher salary to a lower salary. Jobs in science pay far less than jobs in the professions and business held by women of similar ability. A lot of men are irrational, romantic, stubborn, and unwilling to admit that they’ve made a big mistake. With Occam’s Razor, we should not need to bring in the FBI to solve the mystery of why there are more men than women who have chosen to stick with the choice that they made at age 18 to be a professor of science or mathematics.
First, obviously this assumes that an academic career is a “big mistake.” Second, he assumes that the attrition of women is due merely to discovering how much the pay sucks, while because “a lot of men are irrational, romantic, stubborn, and unwilling to admit they’ve made a big mistake,” they stick with academia. (Also to impress their friends, because apparently they have poor social skills). Third, what are the stats on how many of us actually chose such a path at age 18?
Stereotypes aside, I think he’s off the mark. For one, many women who choose to even begin pursuing an academic career in the first place are also “irrational, stubborn, romantic, and unwilling to admit mistakes.” Hell, I admit I’m all of those things a lot of the time (though, hey, I can admit mistakes) and my husband will confirm. I think anyone who aspires to a career with 10-15 years of training beyond college needs to possess many of those qualities merely to get through the training–man or woman. But I don’t think it’s all about the Benjamins.
What *do* I think influences it? Like many things, I don’t think it’s as simplistic as Greenspun makes it. And as a woman with female friends in various stages in academia, I figured I’d run my mouth off with my own impressions. Complete with some data, even.
First, Greenspun focuses on college undergraduates. Maybe things have changed since I was an undergrad oh so long ago,* but when I chose my major, I didn’t know how much I’d be making in a career. I wasn’t even sure exactly what I wanted to do as a career yet. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
So, anyhoo, Greenspun’s hypothesis, if true, suggest that women shouldn’t major in science in the first place, because of lack of good-paying jobs compared to other potential majors. But the stats show otherwise. In 2001, there were roughly 200,000 female science and engineering graduates awarded bachelor’s degrees, equal to the number of men:
How many that year continued on to higher education, receiving a Master’s in science & engineering? ~40,000, compared to over 50,000 men:
Onto doctorates, and women earn them at barely above half the rate of men, roughly 9,000 women and 16,000 men:
Let’s look at another graph:
Female S&E doctorate holders are almost twice as likely as males to have spouses employed full time: 82 percent of the married females and 42 percent of the married males had spouses employed full time in 2001.
Only 13 percent of the married females but 38 percent of the married males had spouses who were not employed.
Seems common-sensical that this division could lead to this phenomenon:
Full professors as a percentage of full-time ranked S&E doctorate holders in 4-year colleges and universities, by sex and years since doctorate: 2001
So what we have here is this. Decreasing numbers of women who continue at each stage of an academic career. Of those who do make it to the PhD, many of us have spouses who have their own career, whereas the majority of our male counterparts do not. End result: fewer women who end up full professors.
So, I don’t think it’s all about the money. Hell, I knew very well that my friends were out there with their B.A.s making $50-60K per year to start as consultants for credit card companies, or more as investment bankers. Meanwhile, I made barely $20K as a technician, then $13k as a grad student. And even now as a professor, I’m still not caught up, salary wise. I bring my work home with me and spend too much time at the computer and in the lab. It’s a bit of a crazy life, I admit, but it’s manageable. But that’s not the message that many women hear–and not the examples they often see–when contemplating a career in academic science. I know people thought I was insane when I was pregnant in my first year of grad school (and hey, I probably was), and I continue to hear that exclamation when I mention to colleagues that I have kids. It can be done, but it certainly takes a lot of sacrifice. In my case, I’ve had supportive mentors, colleagues, and family, which has been the key for me. Many don’t have all of that, and the career may be the logical place to cut back.
I also wonder, since Greenspun is dealing mostly with sterotypes, how much of it also has to do with women putting themselves second. It is tough to have a two people with demanding careers and try to raise a family–how many women give theirs up to be one of those part-time or unemployed spouses in the penultimate graph?
I also wonder if there’s data on this for other demanding careers that require the employee to be away from home much of the time–something like big business. I’d assume they have a similar attrition rate–many women at the bottom, fewer in the middle, even fewer at the highest levels. Note that it’s not just the title “professor” or the acquisition of the PhD that’s the issue–it’s specifically in science. You don’t see the same dramatic trends in non-S&E disciplines. How much is because many of those subject areas lend themselves better to work at home, while being in science means not only time to write, but lots of time also in the lab?
Anyhoo, I know my thoughts aren’t all that novel and smarter people than I have probably hashed this out, but I think it’s way too simplistic to say, “it’s the $$$$, stupid.”
*shaddup, not that long ago