Saturday, August 12, 2006


Male / Female Ratios: Where to hang out at school

I like meeting people at colloquia. They’re smart, they care about something, and the food for conversation is already on the table. So far I’ve only met men. I think that’s because they’re generally the only people at the conferences I’ve been attending (physics, math, economics, computer science …)

A professor of mine at CSU Northridge said that when he went to Penn he learned to hang out at the history department, where the female/male ratio was more favorable. I’ve been contemplating trying that out, but the onus of experimenting in person with different departments on campus looked intolerable. Instead I visited the National Center for Education Statistics, which has already done all that work, far better than I could have.

I’m sure a few of my imaginary readers are thinking, “How crass. This guy’s brains are all under his belt.” If that were the case I would not publicize my (two hours of) research. I think the world would be a happier place if more women knew where to find me(n) and vice versa. Disequilibrium confers an advantage on those privileged with information; I’m acting against my own interest, for the greater good.

Some of what I learned follows quite accurately those stereotypes I never took seriously enough. For instance:

High female/male ratios in
· International studies
· Biomedical stuff
· Ethnic studies
· English lit
· Most languages
· Education
· Communications
· Psychology
· Everything to do with animals

Low female/male ratios in
· Engineering
· Computer science
· Most mathematics
· Military science (sic.)
· Other stuff that I’ve forgotten (do you keep track of the places you failed to find something?)

There were also a number of surprises. For instance, despite my mentor’s advice, history is not a high-female discipline (although it’s better than economics). Neither is religion. Probability / statistics majors are 2 to 1 female, though the rest of math skews strongly the other way. The arts skew female, but not as much as I thought. A number of sciences have more women than men: planetary science, astronomy, analytical chemistry, geochemistry, neuroscience.

[The trends I found hold precisely at the undergraduate level, and vaguely beyond that. For high-female disciplines, many of the ratios stay very similar at the master’s level, and most seem to drop, though not necessarily below unity, at the PhD level. To illustrate, in “American/United States studies/civilization” the female/male ratio is 1.9 at the bachelor’s level, 1.8 at the master’s level, and 1.12 at the Ph.D.

My data came exclusively from Table 252: “Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by sex of student and field of study.” I have not done my homework – I assume they surveyed the whole country, but for all I know Kentucky could be the only state represented. If I had found a table that takes into account regional differences, future life circumstances, family medical history, etc. I would have jumped at it, but I think this is as good as I’m going to find.]

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