STEM, Gender, and Leaky Pipelines

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

Some interesting longitudinal results on female persistence through graduate school in STEM. Post-PhD there could still be a problem, but apparently this varies strongly by discipline. These results suggest that, overall, it is undergraduate representation that will determine the future gender ratio of the STEM professoriate.

The bachelor’s to Ph.D. STEM pipeline no longer leaks more women than men: a 30-year analysis

(Front. Psychol., 17 February 2015 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00037)

D. Miller and J. Wai

For decades, research and public discourse about gender and science have often assumed that women are more likely than men to “leak” from the science pipeline at multiple points after entering college. We used retrospective longitudinal methods to investigate how accurately this “leaky pipeline” metaphor has described the bachelor’s to Ph.D. transition in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the U.S. since the 1970s. Among STEM bachelor’s degree earners in the 1970s and 1980s, women were less likely than men to later earn a STEM Ph.D. However, this gender difference closed in the 1990s. Qualitatively similar trends were found across STEM disciplines. The leaky pipeline metaphor therefore partially explains historical gender differences in the U.S., but no longer describes current gender differences in the bachelor’s to Ph.D. transition in STEM. The results help constrain theories about women’s underrepresentation in STEM. Overall, these results point to the need to understand gender differences at the bachelor’s level and below to understand women’s representation in STEM at the Ph.D. level and above. Consistent with trends at the bachelor’s level, women’s representation at the Ph.D. level has been recently declining for the first time in over 40 years.

… However, as reviewed earlier, the post-Ph.D. academic pipeline leaks more women than men only in some STEM fields such as life science, but surprisingly not the more male-dominated fields of physical science and engineering (Ceci et al., 2014). …

Conclusion: Overall, these results and supporting literature point to the need to understand gender differences at the bachelor’s level and below to understand women’s representation in STEM at the Ph.D. level and above. Women’s representation in computer science, engineering, and physical science (pSTEM) fields has been decreasing at the bachelor’s level during the past decade. Our analyses indicate that women’s representation at the Ph.D. level is starting to follow suit by declining for the first time in over 40 years (Figure 2). This recent decline may also cause women’s gains at the assistant professor level and beyond to also slow down or reverse in the next few years. Fortunately, however, pathways for entering STEM are considerably diverse at the bachelor’s level and below. For instance, our prior research indicates that undergraduates who join STEM from a non-STEM field can substantially help the U.S. meet needs for more well-trained STEM graduates (Miller et al., under review). Addressing gender differences at the bachelor’s level could have potent effects at the Ph.D. level, especially now that women and men are equally likely to later earn STEM Ph.D.’s after the bachelor’s.

The following two tabs change content below.
Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

Latest posts by Stephen Hsu (see all)