New AIR Report Looks at Ph.D. Gender Imbalance in Academic Fields

Washington, D.C. – A new American Institutes for Research (AIR) research brief identifies the most gender imbalanced academic fields in which Ph.D.'s are awarded. In the STEM field, animal sciences and mathematics had far more men earning doctorates while forestry, information science/studies and three categories of engineering had more women. The findings come from one of two new research briefs on STEM Ph.D.'s AIR released today. The other paper looks at graduate school funding.

In Exploring Gender Imbalance Among STEM Doctoral Degree Recipients, AIR researchers determined “overrepresentation” by whether the gender breakdown among doctoral degree recipients is more skewed than the gender makeup among bachelor’s degree recipients in a given field. The researchers note this is a more reliable gauge of gender imbalance at the doctoral level because it accounts for differences in preparation and interest in academic fields.

“There is a considerable loss of female candidates between the bachelor’s and doctoral degrees,” senior researcher and co-author Andrew Gillen said. “If we want gender equity at the doctoral level, efforts need to be made earlier in students’ academic pathways and sustained throughout their doctoral education.”

The researchers analyzed bachelor and doctorate degrees earned in 135 academic fields and found that men are overrepresented in 76 percent and women in 24 percent. STEM academic fields are slightly less likely than other fields to have an underrepresentation of women with Ph.D.'s. Among the 55 STEM fields analyzed, men are overrepresented in 75 percent and women are overrepresented in 26 percent. As for the 80 other fields, men are overrepresented in approximately 77 percent and women are overrepresented in 23 percent.

Top 10 Fields Where Men Are Overrepresented

Top 10 Fields Where Women Are Overrepresented

  1. Communication Disorders Sciences and Services
  2. Missions/Missionary Studies and Missiology
  3. Law
  4. Family and Consumer Sciences/Human Sciences, General
  5. Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Levels and Methods
  6. Bible/Biblical Studies
  7. Health Services/Allied Health/Health Sciences, General
  8. Public Administration and Social Service Professions, Other
  9. Animal Sciences
  10. Mathematics
  1. Forestry (Non-STEM)
  2. Slavic, Baltic and Albanian Languages, Literatures and Linguistics
  3. Forestry (STEM)
  4. Fine and Studio Arts
  5. Information Science/Studies
  6. Engineering-Related Fields
  7. Computer Engineering
  8. Engineering Physics
  9. Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Subject Areas
  10. City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning

Who Pays for the Doctorate? A Tale of Two Ph.D.'s is an extension of a previous paper on the debt burden of those with a science doctorate. The new report focuses on how debt is tied to graduate school funding patterns by looking at two types of aid: institutional funding (assistantships, fellowships and grants) and external funding (savings, earnings and employer reimbursement). 

About 90 percent of STEM Ph.D. recipients funded their graduate education through primarily institutional sources. In contrast, 65 percent of those with a doctorate in the social, behavioral and economic sciences did. However, white and Asian students were more likely than underrepresented minorities (blacks and Hispanics) to receive full tuition waivers.

AIR researchers also found that Ph.D. candidates who heavily relied on external funding and who did not get any tuition assistance had more debt than students who got institutional funding and full tuition waivers. Among students who relied primarily on external funding and did not receive tuition assistance, debt was particularly high for underrepresented minorities studying the social, behavioral and economic sciences: 37 percent of these students from public institutions and 67 percent from private institutions had more than $70,000 in debt, compared with 21 percent at public institutions and 57 percent at private institutions for whites and Asians.

These research briefs are the latest in a series that explores issues related to broadening participation in STEM graduate education. Previous work includes The Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Pathway Providers: Institutional Pathways to the STEM Ph.D. Among Black Students and Leaving STEM: STEM Ph.D. Holders in Non-STEM Careers.

For more findings, 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