20 thoughts on “Which is more male, maths or philosophy?

  1. Back in the early 90s I was strongly encouraged to do a PhD in philosophy entirely because of the shortage of women in the field. I stopped at an MA because I would rather teach high school where I reach all types of people than teach at a university where I’d only ever see the top third (by marks) of society. I wonder what stops other women from finishing. Most the women in my classes were at the top – so it’s certainly not ability as far as I can see.

  2. The data are for U.S. PhDs awarded in 2009, as collected by the Survey of Earned Doctorates. In addition to the link in the post, you can also see divisional comparison with Philosophy broken out as a discipline, and a near complete picture of divisions and disciplines, with a Philosophy highlighted (and a vertical line picking out its position for comparison others). As you can see from the full disciplinary comparision, within the humanities, Music Theory & Composition is even lower than Philosophy, though there were only 100 PhDs awarded in that field in 2009. Of its other neighbors in the Humanities, “History/general” and “History/aggregated” are residual categories accounting for about fifteen percent of the 1,000 or so History PhDs awarded in 2009. Overall, History splits 60/40 M/F. The other near-neighbor in the Humanities is Religion/Religious studies, which is quite similar to Philosophy in terms of the number of PhDs awarded in 2009, and the gender breakdown. Finally, Philosophers of Language might note the comparison case of Linguistics (61 percent Female in ’09), and Mind people that of Neuroscience (52 percent), or Cognitive Psychology (49 percent).

  3. Thank you for passing this along. I have already forwarded it to my entire department. I am currently working on strategies for recruiting and retaining women undergraduate majors–a related problem. This will be a topic in a department meeting next month, and so the data is timely and useful.

  4. Presumably the main response to these figures should be one of celebration: that overall, summed across all disciplines, women get slightly more PhDs than men. I do not see anything of concern in the fact that there are not roughly 50% of women getting PhDs in every discipline. If there were no disciplines where women got fewer than 50% of PhDs whilst remaining several disciplines where they get much more than 50%, then men would be very much in the minority, which is not, I presume, the aim.

    If one thinks that certain characteristics occur more commonly in one sex than the other (for whatever reason) then it is hardly surprising that there is not roughly 50% of women PhDs in each subject area. On the whole the subjects where there are substantially fewer than 50% of women getting PhDs involve mainly sitting alone thinking. Women tend *on average* to be more sociable, connected, practical, down to earth, concerned with life etc. I’m not sure that this is something to be bemoaned, or something that we need to rectify.

    (This post written by somone not particularly sociable, sitting alone thinking…)

  5. “Women tend *on average* to be more sociable, connected, practical, down to earth, concerned with life etc.”


  6. While philosophy can be written in relative solitude, one cannot make a career in philosophy in solitude.

    Philosophy is a social institution. We require funding, training, and mentoring. Our ideas are developed in conversation and at conferences, and disseminated after they have been given a thumbs up by our peers. Committees decide who to hire, who to promote and when to promote them. And the success of a career is largely measured by the reception of our work by our peers. Gender plays a role in these social interactions.

    Computer science, physics and engineering involve incredible amounts of collaboration, much more than philosophy.

    So, I doubt that speculating about gender and sociability will do much to explain the data.

  7. Alpha, I’m glad you caught and challenged the cliche of the lonely scientist. In fact, in general the scientists I work with think of themselves – rightly in my view – as doing a lot more socializing than humanities scholars tend to do. Comparisons on such a scale are highly problematic, but one just needs to look at which fields still expect single authored papers.

  8. Well I suppose the ultimate question is what the difference in numbers of women doing PhDs in the various subjects is due to.

    A) One possibility is that it is something connected to the relative prevalence of certain interests, character traits, abilities or whatever in women compared to men.
    B) The other main possibility is that it is something connected to the institutional environment.

    Thus if ‘A’ were not a factor (ie if on average men and women had identical interests etc) and if all institutional environments were equally welcoming of and hospitable to women, then all subjects would have an equal proportion of men and women doing PhDs in them.

    Obviously there are elements of both A and B in a full explanation. But it is not unreasonable to think that there is a substantial element of A. Then we can discuss what exact interests, character traits, abilities or whatever are likely to be part of the explanation.

  9. Tina, there is lots of discussion of this issue out there and on this blog. Also, keep an eye out for upcoming issues of Hypatia.

    While I think one has a responsibility to educate one’s self, sometimes it helps to have starting places. Here are a few links. (I know that there are some important ones from FP that I am missing, so I hope others chime in with more suggestions.)


    Click to access bcrw-womenworkacademy_08.pdf



    It is also useful to check out the fallout from the brouhaha resulting from Larry Summers’ suggesting that something like (A) was the explanation for the underrepresentation of women in science.

  10. I was being ironic actually… [sigh…] I guess you’re American…

    Whilst the discussions you mention and others about the sciences – such as http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/whysofew.pdf – look at how to get more women into the subjects in question, I am not sure that they adequately address why in certain subjects many more women get PhDs than men, and in other subjects many less. Presumably there are a set of problems which women faced (and in a reduced form still face) in all disciplines. You do not need to go back far to a point where all subjects were dominated by men. And where the vast majority of PhDs were awarded to men. Yet in some disciplines women PhDs are now in the majority and in some they are not. In the research you quote I have not yet found anything which clarifies to what extent this is due to the institutional barriers being greater in some subjects than others, and to what extent it is due to women’s choices.

    Take for instance Psychology and Philosophy. It is not obvious why the percentage of women getting Psychology PhDs is nearly 250% higher than the percentage of women getting Philosophy PhDs. I would have thought that there would be similar types of barriers and problems for women in both fields.

    One possible explanation is that it is something to do with A – women more commonly prefering Psychology to Philosophy.

    (And of course if one thinks that women’s preferences are, on average, different to men’s then this opens the debate as to why. One could hold (as some on this blog hold) that it is in no way biological, but is rather all due to culture, upbringing etc. Others might think there is a bit of both.

    This would then lead to the question as to whether something ‘should be done’ about women’s preferences. For example, it is not at all obvious that there is something problematic about the fact (if it is a fact) that women more commonly prefer to psychology to philosophy as a discipline. So not at all obvious that this needs rectification. Just because we prefer philosophy, does not mean there is something wrong with those who don’t! :-) )

  11. Tina, as Alpha’s comment suggests, we are now way beyond conjectures that suggest the explanation lies where our political preferences do. There’s been a vast amount of research done.

Comments are closed.