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Gender Disparity in Philosophy, by Race and Ethnicity


The National Center of Education Statistics keeps a database of bachelor’s degree recipients at accredited colleges in the U.S., currently running through the 2018-2019 academic year. Search “NCES” on The Splintered Mind and you’ll see my many posts drawing on this database.

Here’s something I noticed today, in the course of preparing a new paper on demographic trends in academic philosophy for The Philosopher’s Magazine: 33% of non-Hispanic White bachelor’s degree recipients in philosophy are women (averaging over the most recent three years), while 46% of non-Hispanic Black bachelor’s degree recipients are women. That is, if you look just at non-Hispanic White students, the gender ratio in philosophy is 2:1 men to women, while if you look just at non-Hispanic Black students, it’s nearly 1:1. The result is highly statistically significant: non-Hispanic White 4674/14032 vs. non-Hispanic Black 579/1264, z = 8.6, p < .001.

I find this interesting and surprising. I welcome conjectures about the possible explanation in the comments. It is definitely not the case, as I have sometimes heard suggested, that non-Hispanic White women are proportionately represented in philosophy, at least at this level.  Non-Hispanic White women constitute 32% of bachelor’s degree recipients across all majors, and 30% of the U.S. general population, but only 20% of bachelor’s degree recipients in philosophy.

Of course, as these numbers also suggest, non-Hispanic Black students remain underrepresented among philosophy majors overall (6%, excluding students who aren’t permanent residents or whose race/ethnicity is unknown), compared to bachelor’s degree recipients across all majors (10%) and to the U.S. general population (13%). 

Looking at the other race/ethnicity categories that NCES makes available, non-Hispanic Asian, Non-Hispanic Multiracial, Hispanic (any race), and nonresident aliens show a similar tendency toward greater gender parity in philosophy than non-Hispanic White students (all p values < .001):

  • non-Hispanic Asian philosophy BA recipients 44% women (708/1598);
  • non-Hispanic multiracial philosophy BA recipients 40% women (441/1097);
  • Hispanic philosophy BA recipients 39% women (1234/3132);
  • non-resident alien BA recipients 44% women (545/1239).

However, Native American / Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic) showed proportions closer to those for non-Hispanic White students, though the numbers are too small for any confident conclusions: 36% (32/88) and 30% (13/44), respectively.

Image: Angela Davis mural in Boston [source]



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