Status Report

AIP FYI #35: New Report on Women in Physics and Astronomy

By SpaceRef Editor
March 22, 2005
Filed under , ,

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 35: March 22, 2005

New Report on Women in Physics and Astronomy

The percentage of women holding faculty positions in physics and
astronomy is consistent with the percentage of women who earned
degrees in those fields in the past, according to a new report by
the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of
Physics. “The most provocative thing about this report is the
finding that women are not under-represented on physics and
astronomy faculties, as most people assume,” said Dr. Rachel Ivie,
the study’s author. Consideration of the “lag time” between degrees
and later stages of employment is “an important part of the
picture,” the report points out. “Without considering lag time,” it
says, “we are left with erroneous conclusions about what the
distribution of women faculty members ‘should’ be without enough
information about what the available pool of women is.”

The report, “Women in Physics and Astronomy, 2005,” released in
February, looks at the percentages of women who take physics and
astronomy in college, graduate with degrees and are employed as
faculty members. It finds that the numbers of women entering
physics and physics-related sciences are increasing. However, they
are entering physics more slowly than other fields of science, and
women are still in the minority.

“Examination of the academic ‘pipeline’ reveals that women
disproportionately leave physics between taking it in high school
and earning a bachelor’s degree,” the report states. “While almost
half of high school physics students are girls, less than one-fourth
of bachelor’s degrees in physics are earned by women. After this
initial ‘leak’ in the pipeline, women are represented at about the
levels we would expect based on degree production in the past. There
appears to be no leak in the pipeline at the faculty level in either
physics or astronomy.”

The report finds the representation of women in physics and
astronomy continuing to increase at all levels. “At the high school
level, almost half of physics students are girls. During 2003, women
earned 22% of the bachelor’s degrees in physics and 18% of the PhDs
in physics – a record high,” the report says. “In astronomy in
2003, women earned 46% of bachelor’s degrees and 26% of PhDs.” But
physics is not attracting women as quickly as other fields. “At the
PhD level,” the report continues, “biological sciences, chemistry,
and mathematics all show faster rates of increase for women earning
PhDs than physics does. The exception is engineering, which has
increased at about the same rate as physics.”

According to the report, women make up “10% of the faculty members
in degree granting physics departments. In stand-alone astronomy
departments, the percentage of women faculty members is 14%. In
addition, women are better represented at departments that do not
grant graduate degrees and in the lower ranks of the faculty.” The
report also finds that “women still earn less than men, even when
they have the same years of experience and work in the same sector.”

AIP’s Statistical Research Center collects and maintains data, and
produces reports, on a broad range of education, workforce and
demographic issues within the physics and astronomy communities.
The full text of this report (AIP Publication No. R-430.02) is
available at: Other
Statistical Research Center reports can be found at

Martha Heil

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3088

SpaceRef staff editor.