Among New STEM Ph.D.’s, Women Likelier to Join Academia, but Men Get More Faculty Jobs

Washington, D.C. – Women with STEM Ph.D.’s are likelier to start their careers in academia, but their male peers get more of the faculty appointments at research institutions, according to a new analysis by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) of the potential impact gender and family may have on these new graduates’ careers. The paper also notes that being married or having young children looks to be a disadvantage in securing a position at a research institution for both men and women.

“An academic career in a STEM discipline demands a continuous progression from college, graduate school, postdoctoral work and then an academic appointment,” researchers Courtney Tanenbaum and Rachel Upton, said. “This trajectory conflicts with the biological clocks of women who are beginning their careers when they are most likely to be starting a family or considering it. It could also hinder the success of men who want a better work-life balance.”

The authors analyzed survey data on the postdoctoral employment status and first jobs of those with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Ph.D.’s, focusing on whether these new graduates reported beginning their careers in academia, defined as a postdoctoral fellowship or faculty position within a postsecondary or affiliated institution. The authors also looked at the two types of employer institutions: research, a university with extensive doctoral/research activity, and non-research, a university without research activity. 

Notable findings include:

  • The percentage of those with a STEM Ph.D. securing any type of job—academic or non-academic—upon graduation is higher for men than women (70 percent, compared with 65 percent).
  • However, women are more likely to begin their careers in academia (79 percent, compared with 67 percent of men), as opposed to such nonacademic fields as government or the for-profit sector.
  • Men are more likely than women (13 percent versus 10 percent) to start their postdoctoral careers as faculty at a research institution, considered the most prestigious type of academic position.
  • Married recipients with STEM doctorates are significantly less likely to begin their academic careers at a research institution, regardless of gender: 79 percent of married men versus 84 percent of unmarried men and 73 percent of married women versus 79 percent of unmarried women.
  • Married men and men with young children were the least likely of all groups examined to begin their careers in academia: 78 percent of married women versus 64 percent of married men and 80 percent of women with young children, compared with 63 percent of men with young children.

Early Academic Career Pathways in STEM: Do Gender and Family Status Matter? used survey data from nearly 28,000 respondents, collected during 2009 and 2010 by the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates. To read the full report, visit

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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