Women now make up just over half of all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) graduate school enrollees in the U.S. and earned more than half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees between 2004 and 2014, according to analysis from the American Enterprise Institute.
Mark J. Perry, an AEI scholar and professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan-Flint, has been studying gender gaps in various aspects of society for years, and has a new report out using various data sets to show that women are not underrepresented in STEM — at least when it comes to education.
“In fact, according to several measures, women are actually slightly over-represented in STEM graduate programs and earn a majority of STEM college degrees,” Perry wrote. But, he cautions, a lot of the conclusions depend on how one defines STEM. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, he cites, says the “definition of STEM can vary, depending on the group using it.”
Perry took data from the Council of Graduate Schools and included its “Health and Medical Sciences” classification as a STEM field. Doing so found that 50.6% of grad students enrolled in STEM programs in 2017 were women, even though women were only the majority of enrollees in two classifications: “Biological and Agricultural Sciences” and “Health and Medical Sciences.” Still, far more women were enrolled in health sciences than either sex in any of the other fields.
Another chart compiled by Perry, based on data from the National Science Foundation, shows that women accounted for more than half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded between 2004 and 2014.
In that 11-year period, 2,924,660 women received science and engineering degrees, compared to 2,890,904 degrees to men. The NSF defines “science and engineering” to include agricultural sciences, biological sciences, computer science, earth/atmospheric/ocean sciences, engineering, mathematics/statistics, physical sciences, psychology, and social sciences.
Now, just because women are earning more degrees in STEM fields doesn’t mean they’re taking more STEM jobs. Women still gravitate toward lower paying jobs related to their fields, still choose to work shorter hours than men, and tend to leave the workforce to have children. There may be some discrimination involved, but no study has proven it conclusively.
Yet even though women are earning more degrees in STEM — and more degrees than men in most other majors — colleges still reward women-only scholarships and emphasize women’s roles in education. The media, too, continues to focus solely on women in STEM while ignoring that men and boys are falling behind at every level of education. As Perry notes:
If there is any “national crisis that will be deeply detrimental to America’s global competitiveness,” I think you could make a stronger case that it’s a crisis related to the declining share of college degrees earned by men and the persistent and increasing “college degree gap” favoring women than any “crisis” related to a female gender gap in only certain STEM fields like computer science and engineering.