I want here to present some quick graphs that suggest the changing gender dynamics within American anthropology. This first graph shows the production of new doctorates since the 60s. It is commonly thought in the field that there has been something of a “feminization” of anthropology over the past few decades, and as we can see here, the number of doctorates awarded to women (in blue) has indeed been greater than the number of doctorates awarded to men (red) since 1992. We can see here that males were demographically dominant in the production of doctorates until 1984, after which there were eight years of approximate equality (where the two lines overlap) followed by divergence.
Important to note, it seems to me, is that although it’s true that the relative place of males and females has indeed been inverted, the overall picture here is that the two lines have risen together fairly regularly. Quite often, especially in the last fifteen years, we can see that little shifts correlate across genders, as in the little drops in 2001 and 2005. And the demographic expansion of the field in general is of a far greater demographic magnitude than the shift in gender balance. In 2007, we awarded more than five times the number of new doctorates as in 1966 (519 vs. 98) — a fact whose significance I will come back to later. But to get a better sense of changing gender ratios, consider a graph of women as a percentage of the total pool of doctoral recipients.
Since this is a graph of women as a percentage of all PhDs awarded, the 50% mark signifies the point of gender balance. As we can see, in the 1960s women comprised a fairly small minority of new doctorates, but grew fairly steadily through the 1970s, hovering around parity during the 1980s as I said above, and now comprising between 55%-60% of new anthropologists. This definitely constitutes a majority, but a far from overwhelming one. Women have not become as demographically dominant as men once were; if anything, the proportion of women among new anthropologsts may even be converging on some sort of rough slightly-majority equilibrium.
However, when we look not at doctorates awarded but at total graduate enrollments (many or most of which are at the Master’s level), we see that the gender gap has in fact been continuing to widen fairly steadily.
As above, there are some overall similarities in the graphs, some similar local maxima, but it is very clear that the number of men enrolled has been falling slightly since 1995, while the number of women enrolled has continued to increase. Compared with the previous graph, which you’ll recall dealt with doctorates awarded, this seems to suggest that there are a lot of women graduate students who don’t end up with PhDs. Or, put differently, there’s greater gender parity by the end of doctoral education than there is at the beginning stages of graduate programs. As we know, people who get doctorates have to pass through the earlier stages of graduate education. If there are proportionately more men at the later stages, that has to mean that women are disproportionately being screened out along the way.
Worth noticing, in passing, is that if we look slightly farther back into the 1970s, we can see that women as a fraction of total graduate enrollments passed the 50% mark in 1977:
So women attain parity in overall graduate enrollments in 1977, while as we saw in the first graph above, women first attained parity as recipients of anthropology doctorates in 1984. This seven-year difference is an interesting time gap because it is just what one would predict if one expected it to take about seven years on average to get a anthropology Ph.D from the start of one’s enrollment in grad school. In other words, we can see the likelihood that gender parity was reached around the time of the 1977 grad cohort, but that it then took seven years or so for this cohort to graduate.
I do have some further graphs of continuing gender imbalance in the discipline, alas. Take a look at the gender balance across different levels of degree recipients (based on degrees issued in a given year, not enrollments).
Again, the 50% line marks the point of gender parity. The top line (orange) indicates the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women; the middle line indicates the percentage of master’s, and the bottom line (yellow) indicates doctorates. Insofar as each curve here is rising, we see again that the fraction of women in the discipline has continued to increase at all levels for a long time. But we can learn two new things here.
First, on the down side, the basic demographic structure of our field has preserved a kind of masculine bias for decades — indeed, since the start of the data. In other words, men have always been increasingly well-represented the higher up you go in anthropological education. This shows again, and more clearly than above, that women have always been, one way or another, disproportionately weeded out of the ranks of new anthropologists.
Second, on the positive side, the curves do seem to be converging. The difference between the fraction of women who get bachelor’s degrees and the fraction of women who get doctorates is decreasing. My sense from this graph is that convergence was happening much more markedly through the 1980s, while since then there has been more of a steady state. (See how the curves are roughly parallel in the right-hand part of the graph? That’s what I have in mind.) This means that this demographic dominance is smaller than it used to be. A double conclusion suggests itself: while men are no longer demographically dominant, and are even a minority (remarkably so at the undergraduate level, where women receive nearly 70% of anthropology degrees), there are still gendered principles of selection at work in the field.
These lingering gender dynamics will not, of course, be a major surprise to anyone. But it’s good to have some statistical confirmation of what is intuitively viewed — somewhat paradoxically — as both an increasing feminization of anthropology and an ongoing masculine bias. That said, I would stand by my earlier remark that the most demographically striking thing here is still the overall population growth of anthropology, hundreds of percent over the decades. The effects of growth on disciplinary social dynamics are probably vast and worth much further exploration. This demographic expansion seems linked to a number of fairly important intellectual changes in the field: there are a lot more little subfields and subspecialties than there used to be; there are a lot more AAA sections than there were when the discipline was smaller and probably more socially homogenous; and there is currently perhaps less of a shared set of ongoing debates or even of a shared theoretical canon. Some professors say they don’t really know what makes something cultural anthropology anymore, and have no further sense of a shared disciplinary endeavor; old-timers sometimes conjure the nostalgic image of an earlier, pre-World-War-II era when the discipline was small enough for everyone to know everyone else. All of these, I would point out, are the subjective or experiential correlates of the objective fact of decades of vast disciplinary growth.
I do have some additional data on gender balance in other social science fields, but I’ll have to postpone that momentarily because I promised to start blogging about comparative university neoliberalisms…