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Kim A. Weeden

Research Findings

How much gender segregation is there in American doctoral education?

April 11, 2018

“The problem is not that we don’t want to hire women or scholars of color, it’s that there aren’t enough graduating from the departments from which we typically hire.” I heard this refrain often during my stint as a co-PI on Cornell’s NSF-funded initiative to diversify its STEM faculty, and it’s echoed in reports from similar initiatives at other universities.

An assumption embedded in this refrain is that the pipeline of women and scholars of color graduating from elite PhD programs – “the departments from which we typically hire” – is smaller than overall pool of women and scholars of color in a field. This is a claim about segregation: it’s not just that men and women, for example, earn PhDs in different fields (“field segregation”), but that they earn PhDs from programs that differ in prestige (“prestige segregation”).

But, how much prestige and field segregation is there in American doctoral education? Do all fields show prestige segregation, or just some of them? Are differences in prestige segregation across fields predicted by differences in the emphasis put on math skills?

To answer these questions, Dafna Gelbgiser, Sarah Thébaud, and I analyzed data on all PhDs awarded by gender, PhD field (e.g., economics, physics), and institution (e.g., SUNY-Binghamton, MIT) in the United States between 2003 and 2014. We linked these data to National Research Council rankings of PhD-granting programs (e.g., Cornell Sociology) and to Educational Testing Service data on the mean verbal and math Graduate Record Exam scores of test-takers in a field.

We excluded Masters and professional degrees, and limited our analysis to gender segregation. We are working on a similar analysis of racial segregation.

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