Prestige Segregation by Gender in Philosophy

The distribution of genders in graduate education in the United States vary by field. Does that distribution change at all when the focus is just on the most prestigious graduate programs? A new study by Kim A. Weeden (Cornell), Sarah Thébaud (UC Santa Barbara), and Dafna Gelbgiser (Cornell), “Degrees of Difference: Gender Segregation of U.S. Doctorates by Field and Program Prestige,” discussed recently at Inside Higher Ed, takes up this question. 

Women are overrepresented (relative to the general population) in fields such as art history, psychology, and French, and underrepresented in fields such as aerospace engineering, physics, and, yes, philosophy, as the following table from Weeden et al indicates:

from “Degrees of Difference: Gender Segregation of U.S. Doctorates by Field and Program Prestige”

When prestige was brought in, using NRC rankings, the authors found, according to IHE, that, across all fields, “men are overrepresented in programs in the top three deciles but especially in the top decile.” Additionally, “top-decile programs are male dominated in 27 of the 41 research council-ranked fields, female dominated in four fields—Spanish, biomedical engineering, materials engineering and geography—and gender neutral in the remaining 10 fields.”

The initial study did not contain any specifics about how prestige (according to NRC rankings) affected gender ratios in philosophy, so I asked Professor Weeden about it, and she was kind enough to look at the data for us. She says that “prestige segregation in philosophy is fairly weak overall.”

Philosophy is one of the 27 disciplines in which men are indeed overrepresented in the top decile of programs (there are 7 programs in the top decile), but “only by a factor of 1.1.” The “only” there is by comparison to other fields, such as mathematics, in which men are overrepresented by a factor of 1.48, and economics, in which men are overrepresented by a factor of 1.27.

She adds that “women are overrepresented in unranked programs in philosophy, which is a fairly standard pattern across disciplines. They also seem to be slightly overrepresented (multiplier of 0.94) in the third decile, which because of a tie includes the 15th-23rd ranked programs.”

UPDATE: The rankings used were the 1995 NRC rankings, owing to problems with the 2010 version and complications of its different “S” and R” weightings.

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