In the following guest post*, Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) shares data he and other philosophers have collected on the percentages of philosophy students and degree holders in the U.S. who are black, in an attempt to understand the causes of the relative lack of black philosophers in the country.
A version of the post first appeared at Professor Schwitzgebel’s blog, The Splintered Mind.
The Leaky Pipeline into Academic Philosophy for Black Students in the U.S.
by Eric Schwitzgebel
Liam Kofi Bright, Carolyn Dicey Jennings, Morgan Thompson, Eric Winsberg and I have a paper forthcoming in The Philosophers’ Magazine on the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of philosophy students and professors, and how it has changed since the year 2000. We look at data from first-year intention to major through entry into the professoriate, drawing on several large data sources.
Below is a teaser, with graphs on the percent of philosophy majors who are non-Hispanic Black at three educational levels: first-year intention to major, completed bachelor’s degree, and completed PhD, from 2000-2001 through the most recent available year. In each figure, the heavy black line represents the percent of philosophy majors who identify as non-Hispanic Black and the gray line represents the percentage of non-Hispanic Black students in all other majors combined.
We see further falloff at the PhD level (drawing on the NSF SED database):
Non-Hispanic Black students are currently receiving only 1-4% of PhDs, with a weakly increasing trend at best. Temporal offset might again play a partial role, but it can’t be the whole story. Even if we take bachelor’s recipients from 2010 and 2011 as the approximate cohort to receive PhDs in 2018 and 2019, there’s a falloff from about 5% to about 3%. It’s unlikely that sampling problems could explain the difference, since both datasets capture the large majority of degree recipients.
The most natural explanation is a “leaky pipeline”. Philosophy is increasingly drawing Black students’ initial interest. However, for whatever reason, as their education proceeds from first-year to bachelor’s to PhD, Black students are disproportionately likely to exit.