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More Female Students Pursuing Science and Engineering Degrees, NSF Report Shows

March 12, 2007

The American science and technology workforce is undergoing a major demographic shift. A report issued last week by the National Science Foundation shows that more women are participating in university science and engineering (S&E) programs than ever before. The biannual NSF report, entitled Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering, provides a broad overview of demographic trends within university S&E programs. In 2007, the report's overriding theme is that although U.S. science and technology fields remain predominantly male, trends at the university-level indicate this may be changing.


Female college enrollment in all fields began to exceed male enrollment in the late 1980s. However, women and men did not participate in S&E programs in equal numbers until 2000, according to NSF figures. As of 2004, women receive slightly more than half (50.7 percent) of all bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields. Women also have begun to close the gap in master’s programs – they now receive 44 percent of all S&E master’s degrees, up from 34 percent in 1990. During that same period, the number of male recipients remained fairly steady.


Male students are, however, still more likely to receive doctoral S&E degrees than their female counterparts. Though the number of men receiving S&E doctoral degrees has dropped more than 25 percent over the past 10 years, women still receive only 44 percent of those degrees. Also, the increasing presence of female students has not been equally distributed among S&E majors. Certain S&E fields, including computer science, remain predominantly male. In fact, in recent years, the gap between women and men recipients of bachelor’s degrees in the computer sciences has grown. Between 1985 and 2004, the female share of computer science degrees dropped from 37 percent to 25 percent.


Female scientists and engineers also appear to be underrepresented in the workforce and in professional circles – almost three times as many men were employed in S&E occupations in 2003 as women. Men also earn much more than women doing S&E work. The average annual salary for male S&E professionals of all ages and educational backgrounds is $70,000, while the average for women is $49,000. Female S&E professionals in supervisory positions have an average of nine subordinates, while male supervisors have an average of 12.


The demographic shift among younger graduates may represent an opportunity for regions anxious to attract S&E professionals. By providing networking opportunities and resources for female scientists, engineering and technology entrepreneurs, cities and states may be able to create an attractive environment for a growing group that continues to face difficult professional obstacles.


Read Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/pdf/nsf07315.pdf

Links to the report and more than 4,500 additional TBED-related research reports, strategic plans and other papers also can be found at the Tech-based Economic Development (TBED) Resource Center, jointly developed by the Technology Administration and SSTI, at http://www.tbedresourcecenter.org/.