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Animated charts of the day: Female share of US bachelor’s degrees, 1971 to 2017 – Publications – AEI

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AEI Animated charts of the day: Female share of US bachelor’s degrees, 1971 to 2017 Here are two more animated “bar chart race” visualizations of the female share of US bachelor’s degrees by 17 major fields of study from 1971 to 2017 (and from 1997 to 2017) according to data the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Here are a few takeaways: 1. What I think is most remarkable about the trends in the top visualization, with a few exceptions discussed below, is the relative stability of the female shares of bachelor degrees over nearly the last half-century especially for at least seven of the most popular college majors for women (Health professions, Education, Public Administration, Psychology, Foreign Languages, English, Communications, and Arts). In

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Animated charts of the day: Female share of US bachelor’s degrees, 1971 to 2017

Here are two more animated “bar chart race” visualizations of the female share of US bachelor’s degrees by 17 major fields of study from 1971 to 2017 (and from 1997 to 2017) according to data the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Here are a few takeaways:

1. What I think is most remarkable about the trends in the top visualization, with a few exceptions discussed below, is the relative stability of the female shares of bachelor degrees over nearly the last half-century especially for at least seven of the most popular college majors for women (Health professions, Education, Public Administration, Psychology, Foreign Languages, English, Communications, and Arts). In 2017, the female share of degrees in those seven fields ranged from 61.3% for Arts and 84.1% for Health Professions.

2. Significant upward trends in the female share of degrees over time since 1971 include the fields of psychology (from 44.8% in 1971 to 78.25 in 2017), biology (from 29.1% in 1971 to 61.0% in 2017), architecture (from 11.9% to 46.5%), business (from 9.1% to 47.1%), Engineering (0.8% to 20.4%), and Psychics (13.8% to 39.7%). Slightly less significant upward trends in the female share of degrees include the fields of Math (from 38.0% to 41.8%), Computer Science (13.6% to 19.1%) and Economics/History (from 36.8% to 50%.

3. The female share of Computer Science degrees follows a unique trend – it more than doubled from 13.6% in 1971 to 37.1% in 1984, and then decreased steadily and stabilized at about 18-19% a decade ago.

4. The bottom visualization above displays the same data but just for the last several decades from 1997-2017. What’s interesting about this period is the remarkable stability in the female share of almost all of the 17 college majors over the last 20 years. The only two exceptions are the increase in the female share of Architecture degrees from 35.9% in 1997 to 46.5% in 2017 and the decrease in the female share of Computer Science degrees from 27.1% to 19.1%. But follow the bars for any of the other 15 college majors and you see that there is very little variation in the female share of bachelor’s degrees over the period from 1997-2017.

Bottom Line: Who’d a-thunk it? It’s almost as if men and women have different academic interests and abilities, and those gender differences are reflected in relatively stable self-selections of different college majors especially over the most recent 20 years. Further if these stable trends in college majors since 1997 reflect the voluntary “revealed preferences” of millions of college students selecting majors that best suit their interests and abilities, why are some of these outcomes selectively considered to be a problem in higher education, e.g., the “shortage” of women in certain STEM fields (Engineering and Computer Science, but not Biology or Health Sciences)? Why such massive efforts and devotion of campus resources, funding, and scholarships to “socially engineer” outcomes that be unnatural, undesirable and unachievable, i.e., coercing more women to major in Engineering and Computer Science? And where’s the equivalent concern about the significant female over-representation in nine of the college majors above?

Prediction: Twenty years from now, the female share of US college degrees will look pretty similar to the remarkably stable trends of the last 20 years, despite the efforts to selectively “socially engineer” different outcomes.

Animated charts of the day: Female share of US bachelor’s degrees, 1971 to 2017
Mark Perry

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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