Women Outnumber Men Earning Doctoral Degrees

Women already outnumber men among college undergraduates. They've been earning more masters degrees than men for more than a decade. And according to a new report, they now are earning more doctoral degrees.

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The U.S. Council of Graduate Schools has been counting up some results of its own. Its annual survey does not usually grab headlines, but this year it does because for the first time ever, women earned more doctoral degrees than men. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: When Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the Council of Graduate Schools, started sifting through the latest graduate school enrollment numbers...

Mr. NATHAN BELL (Council of Graduate Schools): We saw that for the first time ever, women earned the majority of the doctorates awarded in 2008-09.

SANCHEZ: In 2008-2009, women were award 50.4 percent of all Ph.D.s, compared to 44 percent just eight years ago. Most women got their Ph.D.s in public administration, health sciences and education. Bell says this increase is a natural progression because women in undergraduate school reached parity with men back in the early 1980s. And since 1986, women have earned the majority of master's degrees. So, says Bell, he wasn't surprised. For others, this is a big deal.

Ms. ANN BRYANT (American Association of University Women): It's great news. The years of stereotyping women out of continuing their doctoral education - they're over.

SANCHEZ: Ann Bryant is former executive director of the American Association of University Women, which conducted much of the early research about the barriers women and girls faced in education.

Ms. BRYANT: We now have expectations that girls will succeed, and that's the key.

SANCHEZ: The increase in female doctoral graduates is also remarkable because of another trend that Nathan Bell found in his study. A lot more men than women today are enrolling in graduate school. First-time male enrollment is up 7 percent compared to just under 5 percent for women, reversing a 10-year trend, says Bell.

Mr. BELL: And the interesting thing I think that says is that, yes, women did earn the majority of the doctorates, but it does not mean that men have abandoned doctoral education. There is still interest by men in earning doctoral degrees.

SANCHEZ: Especially in mathematics, computer sciences and physical sciences, where no more than 30 percent of doctoral graduates are women. In business, about 39 percent of Ph.D.s go to women. The biggest disparity is in engineering, where 78 percent of doctorates go to men. But even there, Bell says women have seen gains.

Mr. BELL: Twenty years ago, women earned about 10 percent of the doctoral degrees in engineering. Now, they earn 22 percent. And so while they're still not the majority by any means, they have vastly improved their representation in the field of engineering.

SANCHEZ: Still, says Anne Bryant...

Dr. BRYANT: Yes, there's a better pipeline, but we still have those stereotypes. That's why you still see a disparity in wage earning, women as compared to men.

SANCHEZ: In academia, for example, in the very institutions where women earn their doctoral degrees, a male professor with a Ph.D earns $87,200 on average, compared to $70,600 for a female professor with the same credentials. And that, experts say, is the other shoe that's ready to drop.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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