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Female vs. Male Master's Degree Enrollment
Women dominate a little more
I wrote on undergraduate enrollment in Female vs Male Undergraduate Enrollment a couple of weeks ago. The short version is that women make up 58.4% of undergraduate enrolment and that women dominate just as many majors as men do. What about graduate degrees?
We'll start with Figure 1, which shows the gender gap in master's degree enrolment. Women assumed the majority in the early 1980s and continued to rise. The patterns began to flatten in 2005, and the percentage of women started increasing again in 2015 to 61.8% in 2020 (meaning the 2020-2021 academic year). In other words, as we progress from bachelor's degrees to master's degrees, the gender gap widens. This is a case though where percentages do not tell the complete story.
Figure 2 depicts master's degree enrolment, which is somewhat remarkable. Women began an enrolment increase in 2014, which continues to the end of the data (2020-2021 academic year). Women boosted their master's degree enrolment by about 16% throughout this six-year period. Men increased from 2014 to 2015, but then remained roughly flat. The changes in percentages in Figure 1 after 2015 were due to an increase in female enrollment rather than a drop in male enrollment. We will now look at the programs that women and men participate in.
The NCES separates master's programs into areas, and the number of registered students varies significantly. I'll look at areas based on enrollment quartiles. Programs ranging in size from 16,362 to 202,334 students were included in the top quartile. The top three are business (202,334), education (154,756), and health care (142,025). Women make up more than 75% of students in education and health professions, and almost 50% in business. Computing, Public Administration, and Engineering are the next three, each with roughly 50,000 students. In two of these three, men outnumber women. The next-largest program in Psychology has 31,776 students, with more than 75% of them being women. Biology is next on the list, with 19,433 pupils. Social sciences come in last with 16,363 pupils.
Overall, four of the top nine master's programs have more than 75% female students, another has more than 60%, and two more have approximately 50%. Only two are primarily male, and even those include more than a quarter female. I'm not sure if the biggest areas being dominated by women has any consequences or not.
Figure 4 displays areas in the third quartile of size, ranging from 7,850 to 16,363. In this scenario, one program is about 75% female, another is over 70% female, and five of the eight program area are more than 50% female. Male-dominated fields are not as male-dominated as female-dominated fields.
Figure 5 covers programs with 3,137 to 7,850 students, corresponding to the second quartile in size. We notice the similar tendency in that library science has a higher female representation than engineering technologies. However, there are distinct programs that bias male or female in all three of these graphs. I did not make a plot of the first quartile of sizes because the areas are small, with some having fewer than 1000 students.
What is the main point? The outcomes are comparable to those of undergraduate degrees. Women have been overrepresented since the early 1980s, but even more so than in undergraduate degrees. Beginning in 2014, there was a significant increase in female enrolment in master's degrees, while male enrollment remained unchanged. I'd like to hear thoughts about why this happened.
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There are programs that are around 50-50, but others that clearly skew either male or female. There are a number of areas where female enrollment exceeds their overall enrollment of 61.8%. I find it difficult to believe that if the outcomes were reversed, there would not be regular stories concerning female underrepresentation in master's degrees. There are numerous efforts to promote STEM to young women, as well as college programs to encourage and support women. On the other hand, equivalent programs for young men, who have been a minority on college for decades, are difficult to come by. There is at least one other program that is even more severely biased toward females for every one that has more than 50% male representation. I would argue that this disparity is detrimental to higher education and exposes it to easy criticism and accusations of bias. At the same time, this may not be helpful for society as a whole. I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas, opinions, and criticism in the comments.
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