the population is female. In the United States, we’re producing about 2.5 million high school graduates every year, of which 51–52 percent are female. We then send a percentage of them on to college, and we hope they go on to get a bachelor’s degree.

A very small percentage of those who do go on to college actually go into biology and chemistry—the major sciences that will supply medical school applicants. In 1981, 44.5 percent of the 44,000 B.A.’s awarded in biology went to women, and 30.1 percent of the some 11,500 B.A.’s awarded in chemistry went to women. By 1996, these numbers had gone up to 53 percent of 62,000 in biology for women and 41.5 percent of 11,000 in chemistry for women. The numbers in biology fluctuate from year to year, but they’re between 40,000 and 60,000 over about 20 years. For chemistry, the number of B.A.’s graduating every year is pretty consistent. In 2000, 59.5 percent of the B.A.’s awarded in biology went to women. Sixty percent is a pretty hefty number when you realize that is the pool from which medical school applicants will be drawn. Once the 60 percent is put into the postgraduate pool, they go to work or they go to graduate school or they go to professional schools. Most students seem to sit in this work pool for about two years before they go on to graduate school. Sixteen thousand of them go on to medical school. The percentages of women going in either of these directions are increasing over time.

In 1981, 15 percent of the Ph.D.’s earned in chemistry were earned by women. By 1996, 30 percent of about the same number of degrees went to women. In 2000, 31.4 percent of the chemistry Ph.D.’s went to women. In biology, 29.1 percent of the 3,400 Ph.D.’s produced in 1981 went to women. By 1996, the corresponding numbers were 44.5 percent of 4,000, the numbers increasingly slightly. In 2000, 44.8 percent of the 5,850 Ph.D.’s awarded in biology went to women. So we’re approaching parity.

As for the demographics, both men and women take about seven years to get their Ph.D. in biology and six years to get their degree in chemistry. The median age is approximately the same—32 years for a biology degree and 29 years for a chemistry degree. And the plans to undertake postdocs are basically the same—in biology, 54.4 percent of men and 50.6 percent of women; in chemistry, 49 percent of men and 44.6 percent of women. Although these data are from 1996, the numbers had not changed much as of 2000, except that now almost 70 percent of biologists want to go on and do postdoctoral work and about 50 percent of chemists go on to do postdoctoral work.

Now let’s look at the medical school picture. Of the 16,000 students enrolling in 1970, only 9 percent of the class was female. In 2001, 45 percent of the class was female. Just before coming to this meeting I visited my internist, a woman, for a throat culture because I have a cold. After I told her I was speaking at a meeting downtown, she asked me what I was speaking about. “I have to speak to a bunch of medical societies about the role of women in science and how we’re progressing,” I told her. She then said, “We’ve solved that problem, right?



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement