Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Graduate Education
 
Gender Distribution of Advanced Degrees in the Humanities
(Updated August 2017)

Since 1970 at the master’s level and 1998 at the doctoral level, women have earned the majority of advanced degrees in the humanities. In comparison to higher education as a whole, the humanities field granted a larger share of advanced degrees to women throughout the 1966–2015 period.

Findings and Trends

  • The proportion of advanced humanities degrees awarded to women peaked in the first decade of the 21st century and remained fairly stable into the next decade (Indicator II-13a and Indicator II-13b). As of 2015, women earned 61% of all master’s and professional-practice degrees in the humanities and 54% of the doctoral degrees in the field.
  • Although master’s degrees in the humanities were awarded somewhat more often to men than women in the mid-1960s, by 1970 gender parity had been achieved. Women almost immediately went on to become the majority of humanities master’s degree recipients. While the share of humanities master’s degrees awarded to women was initially quite a bit larger than the share for all fields combined, by 2015 the difference had shrunk to 2.5 percentage points.
  • In 2015, the fields of behavioral and social science, education, and health and medical sciences all awarded a larger percentage of master’s degrees to women than the humanities. Business, engineering, law, and the natural sciences awarded considerably smaller shares.
  • In the mid-1960s, the humanities, like all other academic fields, awarded only a small minority of doctoral degrees to women. Though they were better represented in the humanities than in every field but education, women still received only 19% of humanities doctorates in 1966. Throughout the last third of the 20th century, however, this percentage increased steadily, and by the late 1990s the majority of all new humanities doctoral degree recipients were women. Thereafter, a slightly larger share of doctoral degrees in the field went to women than to men.
  • As at the master’s degree level, the humanities traditionally awarded more doctorates to women than did higher education as a whole, but the gap narrowed over time. In 2015, the difference was less than five percentage points.
  • From 1987 to 2015, seven of the 11 humanities disciplines examined here saw an increase in the share of women earning master’s and professional-practice degrees (Indicator II-13c). In philosophy, the share declined one percentage point, while languages and literatures other than English and the academic study of the arts saw declines of approximately four percentage points. Women earned the same share of master’s degrees in English in 2015 as in 1987.
  • From 1987 to 2015, most of the disciplines examined here experienced an increase of 4–16 percentage points in the share of doctorate degrees earned by women (Indicator II-13d; the increase in the share of cultural, ethnic, and gender studies was quite a bit greater, but the much smaller size of this discipline [as measured by degree completions], means that comparisons of percentage change should be made with caution). The exceptions were in classical studies and linguistics, which had declines of six and two percentage points. Languages and literatures other than English awarded the same share to women in 2015 as in 1987.[1]
  • As of 2015, four of the 11 humanities disciplines examined here were awarding less than half of their doctoral degrees to women: classical studies, history, philosophy, and religion.
II-13a: Percentage of Master’s and Professional-Practice Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Academic Fields, 1966–2015

* For years 1966–1986, the National Science Foundation academic field category of “Arts and Music” is the basis for the count of “Fine and Performing Arts” degrees depicted here. This category includes the academic study of the arts (e.g., art history and film studies), which encompasses disciplines considered by the Humanities Indicators to be part of the humanities field. For years 1987–2015, the categorization of degrees by the finer-grained Classification of Instructional Programs makes possible the removal of such degrees from the count for “Fine and Performing Arts” and their inclusion among humanities degrees. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for further explanation of the break in the trend line for this field and others.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, Survey of Earned Degrees, Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS), and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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II-13b: Percentage of Doctoral Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Academic Fields, 1966–2015

* For years 1966–1986, the National Science Foundation academic field category of “Arts and Music” is the basis for the count of “Fine and Performing Arts” degrees depicted here. This category includes the academic study of the arts (e.g., art history and film studies), which encompasses disciplines considered by the Humanities Indicators to be part of the humanities field. For years 1987–2015, the categorization of degrees by the finer-grained Classification of Instructional Programs makes possible the removal of such degrees from the count for “Fine and Performing Arts” and their inclusion among humanities degrees. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for further explanation of the break in the trend line for this field and others.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, Survey of Earned Degrees, Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS), and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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II-13c: Percentage of Master’s and Professional-Practice Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Humanities Disciplines, 1987–2015
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Data System. Data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
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II-13d: Percentage of Doctoral Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Humanities Disciplines, 1987–2015
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Data System. Data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
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Endnotes

[1] The small number of students receiving doctoral degrees in any particular discipline means that relatively modest year-to-year changes in the number of degree completions by women translate into dramatic increases and decreases in share. As a result, for certain years during the 1987–2015 period some disciplines saw a share of degrees going to women that was substantially higher or lower than the most recent [2015] share. “Spiky” data of this kind make the identification of trends difficult.