A Reason So Few Women Go into Academics?

So a little while ago, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released “Visualizing Change,” its 2016-2017 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. I like numbers, so I started looking over some of their tables and noticed a comparison of average salaries for men and women faculty (Table 3). One immediately notices that women’s salaries are lower than men’s. For example, comparing the salaries at Category I (Doctoral):

Men Women W/M
Professor 135,739 124,217 91.51%
Associate 97,313 91,772 94.31%
Assistant 85,816 79,959 93.17%
Instructor 64,457 60,383 93.68%
Lecturer 65,857 60,911 92.49%
No Rank 84,773 74,329 87.68%
All Combined 108,372 91,356 84.30%

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on average women consistently make less than men for the same jobs.

On the positive end, these numbers are better than the national average, around 80%.

On the neutral end, I don’t have information about other factors, such as seniority, private funding, etc. It is possible that factors outside of the universities’ control contribute to the gap, perhaps significantly.

On the negative end, after going through years of schooling, hard work, living away from friends and families (or having to make new ones in each new town), women cannot expect to be compensated as well as men.

But these numbers raised two questions for me.

First, why is the overall average less than any of the individual ranks? If the categories of “No Rank” through “Professor” made up all their data, there is no way they could all be above 87%, yet the overall average at 84%. Some seventh category must be dragging down the average. The obvious missing category is part-time faculty. Either the ratio is so low, or the number of part-time faculty so high, or some combination that the unknown category can overwhelm the combined weight of No Rank, Lecturer, Instructor, Assistant, Associate, and full Professors! Whatever the case, the percentage that part-time faculty women make of men’s salaries has to be less than 84.3%. Working at half-time, adjunct, or graduate assistant levels is already not lucrative. Since most faculty start off teaching as part-time faculty in some capacity (whether adjuncts or graduate assistants), potentially a broad swathe of women beginning their careers in academics make significantly less than their male counterparts.

Second, are things at least getting better?

I tracked comparisons of men’s and women’s salaries going back ten years (2007-2008), the first year the AAUP gives data:

All Men All Women All W/M
2007-2008 93869 73383 84.30%
2008-2009 97889 76539 78.19%
2009-2010 99074 77502 78.23%
2010-2011 100671 78862 78.34%
2011-2012 103056 80671 78.28%
2012-2013 105584 82522 78.16%
2013-2014 108101 84654 78.31%
2014-2015 110578 86770 78.47%
2015-2016 110510 92304 83.53%
2016-2017 108372 91356 84.30%

At first the results were encouraging – a steady ratio of about 78% had gone up to 84% in the last couple of years. However, that was apparently the ratio in 2008, when the recession hit. One possible inference is that, when funding was in trouble, women took the hit more heavily than men. The “dip” in ratios appeared in almost all of the individual categories except for Instructors – the lowest paid category.

Even more to the point, the dips overall were disproportionate to the dips in each category, sometimes by a margin of 12%. That means that part-time faculty was hit significantly harder by gender than full-time, enough to drag the overall percentage down even further. That part-time income would swing more wildly is not surprising – the point of having contingent labor is to be able to shed them when funding is in trouble. An adjunct teaching three classes in a semester might go down to one, a 67% drop in income. But does this suggest that women adjuncts were shed at higher rates than men? I can’t answer without more data, but it does not look good.


So are things getting better? Yes and no. The percentage right now is relatively high and increasing, but if another recession hits, or if the anti-intellectual tide in the U.S. continues to rise and funding is cut for higher education, it may be women who are hit harder than men.


Update: A friend (soon-to-be Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Siena Heights University!), Wendy Crosby, pointed out that pay is not uniform across disciplines, nor is distribution by gender. That is, women tend to go into humanities and education fields, which tend to pay less than scientific fields, which men go into more often. The relatively large dip in salaries during the recession may point to bigger cuts to humanities departments. This is not a good sign, either, but it helps to explain the discrepancy when it is harder for public institutions to vary salary greatly within a category.



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