Feb 8, 2011

Gender, Politics, and the Academy

I want to highlight three interesting stories about gender, politics, and the academy.

First, as reported elsewhere, the percentage of Ph.D.'s in philosophy earned by women in 2009 was about 30%, on the low end for Ph.D. subjects in general. This is an important statistic to keep track of over time

Second, there's an important new study on the causes of male-female disparities in science. While the data in the paper are from the sciences, much of the discussion about what's to be done is applicable to philosophy as well.
Here's a blurb:

"Despite frequent assertions that women’s current underrepresentation in math-intensive fields is caused by sex discrimination by grant agencies, journal reviewers, and search committees, the evidence shows women fare as well as men in hiring, funding, and publishing (given comparable resources). That women tend to occupy positions offering fewer resources is not due to women being bypassed in interviewing and hiring or being denied grants and journal publications because of their sex. It is due primarily to factors surrounding family formation and childrearing, gendered expectations, lifestyle choices, and career preferences—some
originating before or during adolescence—and secondarily to sex differences at the extreme right tail of mathematics performance on tests used as gateways to graduate school admission. As noted, women in math-intensive fields are interviewed and hired slightly in excess of their representation among PhDs applying for tenure-track positions.
The primary factors in women’s underrepresentation are preferences and choices—both freely made and constrained..."

Since the cause of the gender disparity is apparently not sex discrimination at the level of hiring and publishing, the authors argue that preferential hiring for female academics is not an appropriate response to the gender gap. Instead, they suggest:
(i) Increasing outreach to young girls to encourage interest in math-heavy careers.
(ii) Reforming the traditional route to tenure-track academic positions to make it more accommodating for academics choosing to have families.
(iii) Providing additional resources and support to academics with families (child care, stopping the tenure clock to allow for time off to care for young children, etc.) My own institution, the University of California, has taken steps in this direction, and is cited in the article.

Anyone concerned about gender issues in the academy should read this article.

Third, and finally, the New York Times has an article about Jonathan Haidt's presentation at the conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Haidt raised the issue of the disparate representation of conservatives in the academy, particularly in such fields as social and political psychology. While this is an old issue, the article is worth a read.


  1. Thanks for posting. At least 3 blogs I follow have been discussing the headline philosophy gender disparity and broaching all sorts of anecdotal analysis. Some of it was out of the stone ages (well, 1950s)

    New rule: no social science, no injustice claims.

  2. I agree that it's good to test different hypotheses for explaining the data. It's important to note, though, that the existence of some discrimination against women at the level of (say) hiring is consistent with overall neutrality or positive impact on hiring for women. That is, there might be some people discriminating against women, while in the aggregate that influence is outweighed by non-discriminatory hiring practices. It's important to keep this in mind when we evaluate the data. No discrimination in the aggregate does not entail complete neutrality with respect to gender in each case.

  3. Exactly. Statistics are merely facts, not truths.