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Why Are Some Academic Fields Tipping Toward Female? The Sex Composition of U.S. Fields of Doctoral Degree Receipt, 1971-1998 (WP-03-12)

Paula England, Paul Allison, Su Li, Noah Mark, Jennifer Thompson, Michelle Budig, and Han Sun

Using data on the number of men and women receiving doctorates in all academic fields from 1971 to 1998, the authors examine changes in the sex composition of detailed fields. The women’s proportion of those receiving doctorate degrees increased dramatically from 14 to 42 percent. All fields, including the most male-intensive fields, experienced an increase in their percentages of females, but the rank-order of fields in percentages of females changed little. Thus, in some fields well over half of doctorates go to women today. The authors then consider whether men avoid entering fields after they reach a certain percentage of females, thereby exacerbating the “tipping,” meaning fields that previously had a male majority become almost exclusively female. To test this, they use a negative binomial regression model with fixed effects. The model shows that the higher the female percentage of those getting degrees in a field in a given year, the smaller the number of men that enter the field four to seven years later. The pattern resembles Schelling’s (1971, 1978) model of neighborhoods moving from a low to a very high percentage of blacks because of whites’ responses to the initial integrative moves by blacks. If men continue to react in this “woman-avoiding” way, it is unlikely that academia can move toward an integrated equilibrium, despite the fact that women’s field choices are moving in a slightly nontraditional direction. They examine trends in segregation using three indices. While indices disagree on the trend for the 1980s, they all show a decline in segregation in the 1970s, but little if any decline by the 1990s. Men’s avoidance of fields as they feminize might be impeding desegregation.

Paula England, Sociology and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Paul Allison, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

Su Li, Doctoral Student, Sociology, Northwestern University

Noah Mark, Sociology, Stanford University

Jennifer Thompson, Education Statistics Services Institute

Michelle Budig, Sociology, University of Massachusetts

Han Sun, Doctoral Student, Sociology, Northwestern University

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