Identification of the causes underlying the under-representation of women and minorities in academia is a source of ongoing concern and controversy. This is a critical issue in ensuring the openness and diversity of academia; yet differences in personal experiences and interpretations have mired it in controversy. We construct a simple model of the academic career that can be used to identify general trends, and separate the demographic effects of historical differences from ongoing biological or cultural gender differences. We apply the model to data on academics collected by the National Science Foundation (USA) over the past three decades, across all of science and engineering, and within six disciplines (agricultural and biological sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, physical sciences, psychology, and social sciences). We show that the hiring and retention of women in academia have been affected by both demographic inertia and gender differences, but that the relative influence of gender differences appears to be dwindling for most disciplines and career transitions. Our model enables us to identify the two key non-structural bottlenecks restricting female participation in academia: choice of undergraduate major and application to faculty positions. These transitions are those in greatest need of detailed study and policy development.
- Received April 11, 2012.
- Accepted May 30, 2012.
- This journal is © 2012 The Royal Society