NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women in the Life Sciences Face Obstacles to Advancement

October 30, 2001

A new survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the salaries and comparative career happiness among researchers in biology, medicine and related disciplines found that for every dollar male scientists earn, women earn 77 cents. The survey consisted of 6,300 men and 2,500 women respondents, a male-female ratio that roughly mirrors the actual employment in the life sciences nationwide. In the survey:

  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents say that they are "highly satisfied," 27 percent say they are "fairly satisfied," and only 5 percent say they are "highly dissatisfied" with their jobs.
  • Women earn, on average, $72,000 a year -- 23 percent less than their male counterparts' $94,000.
  • Women fared surprisingly well, however, as principal investigators in nonacademic laboratories, where their annual median income was $97,000 compared with men's $95,000.

The AAAS found that women are more likely than men to take time off for childbearing, which may limit their options for advancement. Previous surveys also suggest that women are not as aggressive as men in negotiating advancements and compensation.

  • In the survey, 18 percent of women said they had taken off six months or more for family leave, compared with 3 percent of men.
  • Even women who took shorter leaves acknowledged that their family responsibilities can dictate their professional choices and limit their flexibility.
  • One scientist with three children admitted that she is also limited because she does not travel as much as her colleagues, and, therefore, makes fewer contacts.

Finally, the survey also found that men who took family leave had an easier time than women in returning to their old jobs.

  • Forty-seven percent of men and 30 percent of women said their employers had provisions to ease their re-entry.
  • Fifty-five percent of men and 41 percent of women were able to return to their old employer.

Source: Natalie Angier, "Pay Gap Remains for Women in Life Sciences," New York Times, October 16, 2001.


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