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Gender Comparisons

Introduction

This page reveals and discusses  issues related to the presence and work of women in academia. It introduces what is commonly known as the gender gap in academia, i.e. the traditional underrepresentation of women in universities.

It then presents figures on the presence and position of women in universities and briefly reports the main explanations for these figures.

ACO is working to expand and improve this gender comparison page. We invite users to contact us in case they have comments and data on this important issue.

 

The gender gap in academia

There is a common perception, supported by evidence, that women are underrepresented in academia. This statement needs to be qualified. Indeed, in some countries women in the academic professions are equal or almost equal in number to men. Portugal is one such case. In other cases, it is suggested that women are quickly increasing, such as in the UK where there are some estimate that by 2020, women could account for the majority of all academics in the country. This, however, is not very certain since a recent gender survey of the UK professiorate from 2013 shows that while, on overall, one in five professors in the UK is female, several universities are falling well short of that low benchmark.

At the same time, if we look at the positions occupied by female academics, we discover that women are usually concentrated in the entry level, and therefore the lowest positions of the academic career ladder, and very often equal to men in numbers. In the UK, for example, in 2006/7 there were female lecturers (23,590) and researchers (16,815), who were close in numbers to male lecturers (27,340) and researchers (19,925). In both positions, the growth of women's rate was by 23%, compared to 2001/2. Similar results can be found in other national academic systems (see below). The perception is that this is a recurrent, cross-country pattern. In contrast, much smaller proportion of women is present at the higher positions of the academic ladder. This is supported by a recent study conducted by the University and College Union in 2011, which finds that in the UK "Women's place in academia is firmly established, but their representation at the highest level - in the roles of Professors and Chairs - remains dissapointingly low" ("The position of women and BME staff in professorial roles in UK HEIs").

Another thing to note, and one which is also relevant for the areas where the ACO monitors academic careers, is that that there is usually a difference between disciplines where women are present as academics. Broadly speaking, the proportion of women in the humanities and the social sciences is generally higher than in the natural sciences.

However, there is proof that even in the social sciences and the humanities the gender gap is not necessarily narrowing consistently. With respect to the US, during the last ACO conference of 2007 Lisa Lynch from the American Economic Association's Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession Committee presented some encouraging data concerning the overall increasing presence of women among Ph.D. candidates and in professorship positions in Economics . At the same time, she highlighted some stops in this trend and addressed the problem of 'leaks in the pipeline'.

 

Some data on the presence of women in academia

The ACO provides some figures to support the above statements concerning the gender gap in academia. The table below gives an overview of the presence of women in the academic systems of selected countries. It is not a complete review of the condition of female academics, but it provides evidence of the gender gap in some important countries including those, like the UK, that attract many young and mid-career academics due to their relatively open and competitive system.

Proportion of Women in Academic Positions (%)

 
Ph.D.
Degree
Postdoc

Junior

Lecturer/

Assistant Professor

Senior

Lecturer/

Associate Professor

Full

Professor

Canada
--
--
41%
34%
18%
Denmark
--
--
--
--
--
Finland
--
50%
50%
38%
22%
France
--
--
--
--
--
Ireland
--
50%
--
--
10%
Italy
--
--
33%
--
11.4%
Norway
--
43%
--
31%
17%
Poland
--
--
55%
41%
22%
Spain
--
--
--
--
--
Sweden
--
--
54%
--
17%
UK
--
--
40%
--
12%
USA
--
--
47%
41%
28%

Note: please, bear in mind that the titles of academic positions differ form country to country. For means of comparison, we have unified them into five categories. In countries where the position or its equivalent does not exist, the space has been left blank.

These figures show that although the porportion of women in academia has risen in recent decades, it remains unbalanced. In most countries the number of female academics drops considerably with each successive step on the academic career ladder.

For more information, see the country profiles in the "Career by country" section of the ACO web page.

 

Why is there a gender gap?

Different types of explanations have been provided to make sense of the gender gap. The first and most common of them refers to the difficulty for women to combine their academic career with maternity and other family duties that are still placed on women. Especially in highly competitive systems, such as the British one, women in academia who are in their thirties are usually at the early stage of their career and therefore need to publish and go to conferences to make themselves known, do networking and ultimately move to higher positions in the career ladder.

This may coincide with the age that many women enter a period of potential family formation. Because of maternity and a tendency to assume most of the family workload women end up being distracted from their career-related obligations. Indeed, there is a perception that the majority of women in higher academic positions are single and that they tend to stick to the traditional rules that lead to a successful career in the country.

Second explanation refers to the different attitudes that women have towards career issues, which in turn points to the different cooperative/competitive styles that respectively women and men adopt in the workplace (academia is no exception in this respect). In particular, it is argued that women often do not proactively engage in networking, and do not bargain for promotion and salary increases. These attitudes are perceived by the (male-dominated) system as a lack of interest in having a proper academic career. While these gender schemas are often implict and non conscious, they  give rise to beliefs which can significantly influence evaluation of female candidates even for PhD, but also for post-doc or more advanced academic positions.

Finally, third explanation for the gender gap in academia points to the increasingly itinerant nature of the academic job market, which places an additional burden on women. In the context of the recent economic crisis, the number of tenure track jobs has fallen, but the number of short term positions (such as one-year post-docs) has increased. This gives rise to a new era of itinerancy in academia, which creates difficulties for academics with children, and/or for academics who are part of dual career couples. There are couple of reasons why women are particulary adversely affected by this trend. One of these is that women still make less money on average then men and that academia is not high paying profession in general. In this context, an acceptance of a post-doc paid, for example, $45.000 a year, in a relationship/family where a man earns almost double, often makes no financial sense. Another reason is that women still tend to make greater compromises in their careers for the sake of the general well-being of their families then men do.

In all cases, the main criticism is levelled at the system and the universities which should, together with governments, thoroughly incorporate women's needs and attitudes into the system and come up with changes which could ameliorate the situation of women in academia.

 

Prages: monitoring and disseminating best practices

Prages (PRActising Gender Equality in Science) is an international project aiming to build an online database of best practices related to gender equality in the academia. Several institutions from Europe and beyond are involved in the project, including the EUI. For more information, please visit the official Prages webpage. For the Prages database, click here.

On 28 October 2009, research assitant for ACO, Michele Grigoro, contributed to the PRAGES workshop ‘Practicing Gender Equality at the EUI: The Crouch Report Seven Years Later’ (check here for Michele's presentation).

 

References

Times Educational Supplement, 'Still Second Among Equals', 27 March 2008, No. 1838, pp. 30-35.

Lynch, Lisa M. 2007. 'The Status of Women in the Economics Academic Profession'. See the ACO report and Lynch's presentation.

Virgian Vallian 1999, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women, MIT Press.

 

Special thanks to:

Rachel Applebaum, Max Weber Fellow 2013/14

Zoe Lefkofridi, Max Weber Fellow 2013/14

Ludivine Broch, Max Weber Fellow 2013/14

Note: Rachel, Zoe and Ludivine were the organizers of the roundtable on glass ceiling in academia, titled "Lost in a Sea of White Male Faces". Some parts of their presentations from this roundtable were used for some of the contents of this page.

 

Page last updated on 18 August 2017