Chapter 5:

Employment


Women Scientists and Engineers


Representation in Science and Engineering 

Women were slightly more than one-fifth (22 percent) of the science and engineering labor force, but close to half (46 percent) of the U.S. labor force in 1995. (See text table 1-1.) Although changes in the National Science Foundation (NSF) surveys do not permit analysis of long-term trends in employment, short-term trends show some increase in the representation of doctoral women in science and engineering employment: women were 22 percent of doctoral scientists and engineers in the United States in 1995 (see appendix table 5-1), compared with 20 percent in 1993 and 19 percent in 1991.[3] 

Age Distribution 

As will be seen, many of the differences in employment characteristics between men and women are partially due to differences in age. Women in the science and engineering workforce are younger, on average, than men: 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men employed as scientists and engineers were younger than age 30 in 1995. (See appendix table 5-2.)

Field of Science and Engineering 

As is the case in degree fields (see chapters 3 and 4), women and men differ in field of employment. Women are more highly represented in some science and engineering fields than in others. For example, women are more than half of psychologists and 47 percent of sociologists, but 12 percent of physicists and 9 percent of engineers. (See figure 5-1 and appendix table 5-1.) Within engineering, women are also more highly represented in some fields than in others, for example, women are 13 percent of chemical and industrial engineers, but 6 percent of aerospace, electrical, and mechanical engineers.

Educational Background 

Women scientists have, in many occupational fields, a lower level of educational attainment than men. In the science labor force as a whole, 15 percent of women and 21 percent of men hold doctoral degrees. (See appendix table 5-1.) In biology, 25 percent of women and 41 percent of men hold doctoral degrees; in chemistry, 13 percent of women and 27 percent of men hold doctoral degrees; and in psychology, 22 percent of women and 39 percent of men hold doctoral degrees. Differences in highest degree influence differences in the type of work performed, employment in science and engineering jobs, and salaries. In engineering, only about 5 percent of both men and women have doctoral degrees.

Labor Force Participation, Employment, and Unemployment 

Men scientists and engineers are more likely than women to be in the labor force, to be employed full time and to be employed in their field of highest degree. Women are more likely than men to be out of the labor force, to be employed part time, and to be employed outside their field. Some of these differences are due to differences in the age distributions of men and women, and some are due to family-related reasons, such as demands of a spouseís job or presence of children.

The labor force participation rates of men and women with current or former science and engineering occupations are similar–87 percent of women and 88 percent of men are in the labor force. Conversely, 13 percent of women and 12 percent of men are not in the labor force (that is, not working and not seeking employment). Among those in the labor force, moreover, unemployment rates[4]  of men and women scientists and engineers are similar: 2.0 percent of women and 2.2 percent of men were unemployed in 1995. (See appendix table 5-3.)

Overall similarities in labor force participation, however, mask differences within age groups. Although similar percentages of men and women are out of the labor force, the women who are out of the labor force are younger than the men who are out of the labor force. Most (60 percent) of the women who are out of the labor force are younger than age 45, but most (86 percent) of the men who are out of the labor force are age 55 or older.

Reasons for not working (whether out of the labor force or unemployed) differ in some respects by sex. Women were more likely than men to cite family responsibilities (40 percent versus 1 percent), and men were more likely than women to cite retirement (75 percent versus 21 percent). (See appendix table 5-4.) These differences reflect differences in the age distributions of men and women as well as differences in role responsibilities.

Women scientists and engineers were less likely than men to be employed full time in their field.[5]  Of those who were employed, 74 percent of women and 86 percent of men were employed full time in their degree field. (See appendix table 5-3.) The fraction employed full time outside their degree field, however, was roughly similar for men and women: 10 percent of women and 9 percent of men were employed full time outside their degree field. For the most part, the reasons given for working outside their degree field were similar for both sexes: 36 percent of men and 37 percent of women cited pay or promotion opportunities and 23 percent of both cited change in career or professional interests. (See appendix table 5-5.) Women, though, were more likely than men to cite family-related reasons (for example, children, spouseís job moved) (7 percent versus 2 percent).

A major reason for the lower percentage of women scientists and engineers in full-time employment is their higher percentage in part-time employment. Of those who were employed, 16 percent of women and 5 percent of men were employed part time. (See appendix table 5-3.) Women who were employed part time were far more likely than men to cite family responsibilities as the reason. Forty-two percent of the women working part time and 7 percent of the men cited family responsibilities as the reason for working part time. (See appendix table 5-6.) Thirty-one percent of men and 4 percent of women cited retirement as the reason for part-time employment. As was the case with unemployment, the differences in age distribution of men and women, as well as differences in role responsibilities, account for these differences in reasons for part-time employment.

Sector of Employment 

Within fields, women are about as likely as men to choose industrial employment. For example, among physical scientists, 54 percent of women and 50 percent of men are employed in business or industry. (See appendix table 5-7.) Among employed scientists and engineers as a whole, women are less likely than men to be employed in business or industry and are more likely to be employed in educational institutions: 50 percent of women and 65 percent of men are employed in for-profit business or industry and 26 percent of women and 15 percent of men are employed in educational institutions. These differences in sector, however, are mostly related to differences in field of degree. Women are less likely than men to be engineers or physical scientists, who tend to be employed in business or industry.

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Is the Gender Gap in
Unemployment Disappearing? 

In 1995, the unemployment rate for both men and women who hold doctoral degrees in science and engineering was 1.5 percent. This figure is in stark contrast to the situation in 1973, when Maxfield et al. (1976, p. 5) found "the unemployment rate for women...substantially higher than that for men (3.9 percent versus 0.9 percent)." In the intervening years, the gender gap in unemployment, measured by the ratio of female to male unemployment, steadily narrowed. (See figure 5-2.)

Results of studies of the gender gap, controlling for other factors are consistent with the premise that the gender gap in unemployment among those with doctoral science and engineering degrees is disappearing. Maxfield et al. (1976) found that in 1973 in all age groups and all degree fields, women had considerably higher unemployment rates than men. The smallest reported difference was in the field of mathematics where the rate was 1.9 percent for women, compared to 1.4 percent for men. An NSF study of factors affecting unemployment in the 1993 doctoral science and engineering population (NSF, 1997) found no statistically significant difference between men and women, after controlling for such variables as field of degree and years since degree.

The vanishing gender gap in the doctoral science and engineering population is a reflection of a similar trend in the general population (U.S. Department of Labor, 1994, p. 32). In 1973, the unemployment rate for women in the general U.S. population age 20 and over was substantially higher (4.9 percent) than that for men (3.3 percent). The gender gap in the general population had been eliminated by the early 1980s, approximately a decade before its disappearance in the science and engineering doctoral population.


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Preferences for Careers in
Science and Engineering 

Preferences for nonacademic, academic research, or academic teaching careers differ by sex and by field (Fox and Stephan, 1996). Preferences for academic research careers were found to be higher for men than for women, preferences for academic teaching careers were found to be higher for women than for men, and preferences for nonacademic careers did not differ by sex. These overall differences or similarities are confounded by field differences. Differences between menís and womenís preferences for academic research careers were greatest in chemistry, microbiology, and computer science. Differences between menís and womenís preferences for nonacademic careers, although nonexistent in the aggregate, were evident in computer science, electrical engineering, and physics. These findings are the result of a survey of 3,800 doctoral students in departments of chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, microbiology, and physics in 1993–1994 of which 2,348 (62 percent) responded.


Academic Employment 

The career patterns of women in academic employment are quite different from those of men. Women differ from men in terms of type of school, rank, tenure, and research productivity. Among all scientists and engineers in academic employment, women are more likely than men to be employed in elementary or secondary schools (11 percent versus 4 percent) and in 2-year colleges (12 percent versus 9 percent). (See appendix table 5-8.)

In 4-year colleges and universities, women scientists and engineers hold fewer high-ranked positions than men. Women are less likely than men to be full professors and are more likely than men to be assistant professors. (See figure 5-3.) Among ranked science and engineering faculty, 49 percent of men and 24 percent of women are full professors. Part of this difference in rank can be explained by age differences, but differences in rank remain even after controlling for age. For example, among those ages 45 to 54, 40 percent of women and 61 percent of men are full professors. (See appendix table 5-9.)

Women are also less likely than men to be tenured. Thirty-five percent of full-time employed women science and engineering faculty are tenured, compared to 59 percent of men. As was the case with rank, some, but not all, of the differences in tenure may be attributable to differences in age. Among full-time employed science and engineering faculty ages 45 to 54, 57 percent of women and 76 percent of men are tenured. (See appendix table 5-10.)

Part of the difference in rank and tenure may be due to research productivity (as measured by number of publications). The most important factors influencing promotion in academia are time in rank and productivity (Long et al., 1993). Although roughly the same proportion of men and women had no publications (17 percent of women and 18 percent of men), women had fewer publications in refereed journals than men in the 5-year period 1990–1995. Among doctoral scientists and engineers who were employed full time in colleges or universities and who received their doctorates in 1990 or earlier, 45 percent of women and 34 percent of men had one to five publications, and 38 percent of women and 48 percent of men had more than five publications. (See appendix table 5-11.) Differences in field as well as differences in age or years since doctorate are likely to explain some of the differences in publication rates.

Patent activity follows a pattern similar to publication activity: women are less likely than men to have patents. Among full-time employed doctoral natural scientists and engineers[6]  who are employed in colleges or universities and who received their doctorates in 1990 or earlier, 7 percent of women and 11 percent of men had been named on applications for patents since 1990. (See appendix table 5-11.)

Differences in research support do not appear to be a factor in differences in publications and patents. Women faculty are as likely as men to be supported on Federal contracts or grants–44 percent of women and 45 percent of men faculty were supported by Federal contracts or grants. (See appendix table 5-12.)

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Do Men and Women Have Different
Styles of Doing Science? 

Some believe that gender influences the way scientists work and their choice of research subject (Sonnert and Holton, 1995a). This research suggests that many women follow a "niche" approach in selecting research problems–they create their own area of expertise rather than competing with other researchers in "hot" fields. Sonnert and Holtonís interviews with 92 men and 108 women who had received postdoctoral fellowships in the sciences from NSF, the National Research Council, the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, or who had been Bunting finalists suggest that women may publish fewer papers because they take longer on a project, are more thorough and perfectionist, and take on broader projects than men. Womenís articles have been found to have more citations per article than menís (Long, 1992; Garfield, 1993; Sonnert, 1995b.)

Nonacademic Employment 

Differences in field influence differences in primary work activities. For example, men are more likely than women to be engineers and physical scientists and are thus more likely to be engaged in research and development. Therefore, it is not surprising that the primary work activity of women scientists and engineers in business or industry differs from that done by men. For example, 28 percent of women and 40 percent of men report research and development as their primary work activity. Women, however, are as likely as men to be in management or administration–22 percent of men and 18 percent of women cite management or administration as their primary work activity.[7]  (See appendix table 5-13.) Among those of similar ages, even less difference in managerial status is evident. For example, among scientists and engineers between the ages of 35 and 44, 19 percent of women and 21 percent of men are managers or administrators.

Although men and women of similar ages are about equally likely to be managers, men have more subordinates.[8]  Women who are first-line supervisors have, on average, fewer total (direct plus indirect) subordinates than men. Women supervisors have, on average, 8 direct and indirect subordinates, whereas men have 12. (See appendix table 5-14.) This disparity in number of subordinates holds true among age groups as well.

The size of oneís employer is an important factor in opportunities for promotion and advancement, salaries, and benefits. Potentially, employer size could explain some of the differences in opportunities and salaries experienced by men and women. Men and women scientists and engineers, however, do not differ in terms of employer size–4 percent of both work for very small firms (under 10 employees) and 44 percent of women and 45 percent of men work for large firms (5,000 or more employees.) (See appendix table 5-15.)

Publications are less important to oneís career in business or industry than they are in academic employment. Almost half of both men and women PhDs employed in business or industry have no publications. Among doctoral scientists and engineers who were employed full time in business or industry and who received their doctorates in 1990 or earlier, 49 percent of women and 46 percent of men had no publications. Unlike the case in academic employment, women in business or industry have as many publications in refereed journals as men: 14 percent of women and 15 percent of men had more than five publications. (See appendix table 5-16.)

In contrast to publications, patents are of greater importance among scientists and engineers employed in industry. Women, though, are less likely than men to have patents. Among natural scientists employed in business or industry in 1995, 28 percent of women and 39 percent of men had been named on applications for patents since 1990. (See appendix table 5-16.)

Salaries 

Full-time employed women scientists and engineers generally earn less than men, but differences in salary by gender are due primarily to differences in age and field. Women scientists and engineers are younger, on average, than men and are less likely than men to be in computer science or engineering, fields which command higher salaries. The overall median salary for women ($42,000) is much lower than that for men ($52,000) but within fields and within younger age categories, the median salaries of men and women vary considerably, but are more nearly the same. (See appendix table 5-17.) For example, among computer and mathematical scientists with bachelorís degrees between the ages of 20 and 29, the median salary for women was $35,000, and for men it was $38,000 in 1995. With increasing age, however, the gap in salaries of men and women widens. (See figure 5-4.) For example, among computer and mathematical scientists with bachelorís degrees between the ages of 40 and 49, the median salary for women was $48,000 and for men was $57,000. The lesser prevalence of women in higher positions in academe and industry explains some of this difference. Comparisons of men and women in the same field, the same age group, the same rank or position, and with a similar number of subordinates, would reveal salaries more nearly the same. See the previous version of this report (NSF, 1996) for a more detailed explanation of the influences on salaries for men and women.

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Footnotes

[3] For 1991 figures, see Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1994, p. 95. For 1993 figures, see Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1996, p. 63.

[4] The unemployment rate is the ratio of those who are unemployed and seeking employment to the total labor force (that is, those who are employed plus those who are unemployed and seeking employment). Those who are not in the labor force (that is, those who are unemployed and not seeking employment) are excluded from the denominator.

[5] A respondent is employed "in field" if he or she responded that his or her current work is "closely related" or "somewhat related" to field of highest degree.

[6] The prevalence of patents by social scientists was so low they were excluded from this analysis.

[7] This difference is not statistically significant.

[8] It should be noted that in the SESTAT data files, only first-line supervisors are considered scientists and engineers. Midlevel and top managers and administrators are not considered to be in science and engineering occupations. Because this analysis was limited to people employed as scientists and engineers, those midlevel and top managers and administrators were excluded.


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