By Ernie Tretkoff
A report released in February by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) shows that women in physics progress at the same rate as their male peers. The percentage of women in faculty positions in physics and astronomy is consistent with the percentage of women who earned degrees in the past, the report says. While women are still a minority in physics, the representation of women in physics at all levels continues to increase.
"While almost half of high school physics students are girls, less than one-fourth of bachelor's degrees in physics are earned by women. After this initial 'leak' in the pipeline, women are represented at about the levels we would expect based on degree production in the past," says the report. "There appears to be no leak in the pipeline at the faculty level in either physics or astronomy."
This data should not be taken to mean that there is no discrimination against women in physics, cautions Rachel Ivie of AIP, the study's author.
"This doesn't mean there's no problem in physics," said Ivie. "Women have persevered in spite of obstacles," she said. For instance, women are more likely than men to be hired into temporary positions, and many women experience a hostile climate in their departments. "There's all kinds of discrimination, but it doesn't show up in these numbers."
The report did find that even when working in the same sector for the same number of years, women's salaries are lower than men's in physics and related fields. "Across all sectors, women with comparable years of experience working in the same sector as men make $3050 less annually. This is equal to almost 5% of the base annual starting salary for men in academe," says the report. Among the other highlights of the report:
- The representation of women in physics and astronomy at all levels continues to increase. At the high school level, almost half of physics students are girls. During 2003, women earned 22% of the bachelor's degrees in physics and 18% of the PhD's.
- Estimates of the retention rates for physics graduate students show only small differences in the dropout rate for male and female students.
- African American and Hispanic women still earn very few of the physics degrees in the US.
- Internationally, the representation of women in physics is also very low. Most countries award less than 25% of their first-level university physics degrees to women, and most grant less than 20% of their physics PhD's to women. Ivie said she is optimistic that the representation of women in physics will continue to increase. "There are a lot of people working to make that happen."
The report can be found at www.aip.org/statistics.
©1995 - 2017, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette