The National Science Foundation’s latest statistics on the Characteristics of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the US: 2001 reveal that inequality is alive and well, but provide some reasons to be hopeful. As with all statistics, a degree of caution is required in analysis, but some points stand out.

It’s no surprise that the sciences are still male dominated (70% of all employed doctoral scientists and 92% of engineers), but some good news comes from the proportion employed by universities and four-year colleges. Among those who received their doctorate less than ten years ago, there is a much more equal split between the sexes, including those who are already full professors. It is telling to compare this to the figures for those who received their doctorates over ten years ago (83.2% male versus 16.8% female). Overall, the pipeline appears well-balanced, but there are some exceptions. In the health sciences, for example, the number of women employed now outnumbers men, except at the full professor level. At the opposite end of the spectrum, engineering remains one sector where women are underrepresented. The picture seems to be improving, with women making up a larger proportion of the younger age group. This younger generation of scientists is also more diverse, with higher proportions from other race/ethnic groups.

The statistics on salaries, however, make for more unhappy reading. The average salary across the board is $77 000, but for white males the average is $82 000. Black women have the lowest average ($60 000), white women fare slightly better ($62 000), and black males better still ($70 000). The average salary discrepancy between men and women runs at about 20%. Surprisingly, this includes health sciences where women are in the majority. The good news is that in materials engineering the difference is only around 6%. Private-for-profit and federal government employers appear more equal in their salary levels than universities. And these salary differences don’t seem to represent differences in status, either. Across the board, regardless of subject area, female full professors get significantly lower salaries (9%) than their male counterparts. In health sciences, where women are best represented that discrepancy is a disturbing 25%, while engineering, which has some of the lowest numbers of female staff, is one of the best with a mere 5% difference in average salaries. The picture in the future may be better, however. Average salaries for those who received their doctorate in the last ten years are much more on par, as are those for younger scientists on the tenure-track.

Sex and ethnicity aside, it’s even worse if you’re a non-US citizen… On average, non-US citizens, even permanent residents, have lower salaries. In some sectors, salaries are more or less equal, but biological sciences is one of the worst, with permanent citizens taking home 15% less and temporary residents a shocking 50% less than average salaries. But stick at it because, intriguingly, on average naturalized US citizens take home a higher salary than US-born scientists!

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)00601-1