Share Of University Degrees Going To Women

Share Of University Degrees Going To Women

This week we take a look at the share of university degrees going to women.

Our data begins in the 1869-1870 school year when 1378 women got a Bachelor's degree, and none got either a Master's or a Doctor's degree. 

Things may look a bit bleak, but it must be taken into account that the numbers for men were 7,993, zero, and 1 respectively.

While the numbers for women were low at the time, they began to steadily increase over the years and for the 1939-1940 school year, 76,954 got a Bachelor's, 10,223 got a Master's and 429 got a Doctor's degree.

Unfortunately, there is no data available for the years the United States participated in World War II. However, we can compare the number of degrees awarded in 1940 and 1950 to see the difference in both the numbers and the genders of the recipients.

In 1940, a total of 186,500 bachelor's degrees were given, with 109,546 going to men and 76,954 going to women. 

In 1950, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded more than doubled to 432,058. Men received the majority of these degrees, with 328,841, an increase of 200% compared to 10 years ago, while women received 103,217, a relatively low increase of 34% compared to 1940.

The 1981-1982 school year marked the first time women outnumbered men in the number of Bachelor's degrees given, while the 1986-1987 school year was the first time women outnumbered men in the number of Master's degrees given.  It would take another 19 years, namely the 2005-2006 school year, for women to outnumber men in Doctor's degrees awarded too. 

In 1972, the U.S. government passed Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational program that receives funding from the federal government. This law was implemented to promote gender equality in education. By that time, there was a 12.8 percentage-point gap in the proportion of bachelor’s degrees going to men compared to women.  By 1982, the gap was eliminated, and started to widen in the opposite direction. By 2020, the gender gap in bachelor awards was wider, at 15.4 points, than it had been in 1972 — but the other way round.

Today, the share of university degrees going to women has continued to increase. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2019-2020 school year, a total of 2,038,431 bachelor's degrees were awarded, with 57.7% going to women. Of the 843,449 master's degrees, 61.4% were awarded to women, while finally, of the 190,178 doctor's degrees 55.2% went to women.

You can find all the data related to Degrees Conferred on the website of the National Center for Education Statistics.

I also created two additional graphs to accompany this one. The first displays the absolute number of degrees conferred, and the second shows the proportion of degrees conferred for each sex as a share of the respective population. For the second graph, I used population data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.

Number Of Degrees Conferred By Sex Of Student

Degrees Awarded As Share Of Respective Sex Population