NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 3, 2005

The recent debate over Harvard University President Larry Summers' comments on women in the sciences misses the point, say W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Over several decades, women have made extraordinary gains in many male-dominated fields.

For example:

  • The percentage of women receiving bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees increased from 1970 to 2002.
  • In the early 1970s, women accounted for less than 10 percent of all graduate degrees in law, medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine; they now earn almost 50 percent of law degrees and 40 percent of degrees in medicine.
  • Women's share of master's degrees from business schools rose from 3.6 percent in 1970 to 41.1 percent in 2002.
  • Women's doctorate degrees in social sciences increased from 13.3 percent in 1970 to 46.3 percent in 2002.

Furthermore, the labor force participation rate for women is almost 60 percent today, up from less than 40 percent between 1950 and 1968.

Debating whether women are intellectually up to the challenge is unnecessary. Based on historical advances among women, the field of science will eventually become more female-oriented as older, male-dominated groups retire.

Source: W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, "Scientists are Made, Not Born," New York Times, February 28, 2005.

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