Monday, 7 February 2011

Female PhDs in Psychology

There's a curious graph making the rounds, made by Kieran Healy, regarding the percentage of US PhDs awarded to women in 2009. Most of the discussion I've seen regarding said graph is related to the remarkably low levels of female philosophy PhDs (~30%), which is interesting enough, but the findings for psychology seem equally surprising to me; apparently over 70% of psychology PhDs were awarded to women. Why the skew?

I could wax lyrical about psychology possibly being a stereotypically female field and thus naturally attracting more women to it, but that would be mere conjecture. Let's look at the data, which Kieran helpfully provided. My first question is; what exactly is that "psychology" datapoint on the "Selected Disciplines" graph showing? Is it all psychology fields aggregated together, or merely generic psychology PhDs? I remain unsure; in the detailed data, "psychology/general" shows ~68% women, whereas "psychology/aggregated" shows ~66% - neither of which match the ~72% displayed on the "Selected Disciplines" graph.

Regardless of where that >70% figure cames from, the aggregated total for all psychology sub-fields is still very much female-dominated. Breaking that aggregate down into its components, however, yields some fairly interesting results; cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics is the most evenly distributed field, with 48% of PhDs being issued to women. Experimental (62%), physiological (63%) social (64%) and family (65%) psychology all show a slight female bias.

The really female-dominant fields, however, are counselling (76%), clinical (77%), school (77%) and educational (78%) psychology. The most female-heavy subfield is, without a doubt, developmental and child psychology, with apparently 85% of all PhDs issued being awarded to women. It's probably unsurprising that the female-heavy areas of psychology are the ones most associated with stereotypically "feminine" subjects; other educational subjects display an equally high percentage of PhDs issued to women.

So what this data shows us, then, is that generic psychology is not as female-slanted as it appears at first glance; rather, much of the subject seems to be surprisingly well-balanced in terms of gender population, with some certain subfields overwhelmingly populated by women. Not to say that this is a bad or undesirable state of affairs; I just thought that the initial placing of psychology was curious, and wondered what the explanation for it might be.

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