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Unemployment Rates Reflect Greater Gender Equality

January 1998

For the first time in over two decades, unemployment rates between men and women with doctoral degrees in science and engineering were the same, according to a recent Issue Brief from the Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS).

The Issue Brief, written by Carolyn F. Shettle, Director of the Doctorate Data Project of SRS, highlights the dramatic contrast between 1995 unemployment rates and those of 1973. In 1973, research conducted by the National Academy of Sciences on individuals with doctoral degrees in science and engineering revealed that the unemployment rate for women was 3.9% versus only 0.9% for men.

In contrast, the SRS study shows that the 1995 unemployment rate for both men and women holding doctoral degrees in science and engineering was 1.5%. This equality represents the culmination of a steady narrowing of the gender gap over the last two decades.

Given overall trends toward gender equality, these research results are not terribly surprising, according to Shettle. "The vanishing gender gap in the doctoral science and engineering population," she writes, "is a reflection of a similar trend in the general population."

By the early 1980s, research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor was already showing that the gender gap in the general population had, in essence, disappeared. Ten years later, the diminishing gap is reflected in the doctoral science and engineering unemployment rates.

The Issue Brief also details SRS research into the relationship between unemployment, gender roles and marriage. Again, study results reflect common sense. Unmarried men had higher unemployment rates than married men; unmarried women, on the other hand, tended to have significantly lower unemployment rates.

Shettle explains, "Traditionally, men were expected to be the primary 'bread-winners' in a family, and women were expected to be homemakers...because of these different roles, it is logical to expect marriage and children to lead to lower unemployment rates for men, but higher unemployment rates among women."

Shettle believes the importance of the research lies chiefly in its implications for the future. "Are women at a disadvantage in the doctoral science and engineering labor force? Do marriage and children have different effects on male and female employment?" Shettle continues. "The answers to these questions are important to science and engineering policymakers, program administrators, and individuals in or considering entering the science and engineering labor force."

For free copies of SRS Issue Briefs, call SRS at (703) 292-8774, or send an e-mail to srsweb@nsf.gov.

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