A funny thing happened on the way to the graduation podium last year. For the first time in US history, more women than men earned doctoral degrees, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.
The statistic reflects yet another milestone in a 30-year transformation of educational trends among the sexes in our country. In recent years, women had risen to represent nearly 60% of all people that earned degrees from 4-year colleges and Master’s degree programs, but it wasn’t until last year that they claimed the lead among doctoral degrees as well.
Doctoral degrees typically require about 7 years to obtain, so it’s to be expected that this reversal would be the last among these trends to appear. “It is a trend that has been snaking its way through the educational pipeline,” Council director Nathan Bell told the Washington Post. “It was bound to happen.”
Men had retained a narrow lead in the number of doctoral degrees awarded because of their overwhelming predominance in mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences. To this day, men still account for 80% of doctorate degrees awarded in engineering, for example.
Women have caught up though, based on consistent, longstanding gains in health sciences, education and the behavioral sciences. Women now account for 70% of all awarded doctorates in health sciences. They account for 67% of new doctorates in education, and 60% percent of those awarded in behavioral and social sciences.
The rise of women through the ranks of our educational system began in the early 1980s. The demographic shift is being driven by the same economic forces that have driven increasing numbers of women into the workforce. In short, people of both genders realize there is an “increased need for (women) to make money for their families,” Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women explained to the Post.