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Editorial: Narrowing the gender gap in scholarship

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that there exists a gender gap in scholarship in which women, on average, produce less scholarship than men in academia. The article built upon a new Pew Research Center study about college enrollment rates, which revealed that women’s enrollment in higher education currently trumps that of their male counterparts. In less than two decades, from 1994 to 2012, women have reversed a longtime trend and are now outpacing men in college enrollment.

Given this data, we believe the University and its peer institutions must consider the causes and the implications of such shifting trends: increased female enrollment on one hand, but productivity not keeping up on the other. While we are heartened that in this day and age females have greatly increased access to education, universities must also seek to understand and address both these trends in gender and higher education.

The enrollment gender disparity is most prevalent among minority populations, especially among Hispanic and black students. As the Pew Research Center reported, in 1994 Hispanic men and women enrolled in college at essentially equal rates, while black men outpaced women by 9 percentage points. By 2012, however, those numbers had drastically shifted: Hispanic women and black women had increased enrollment rates, outpacing their male counterparts by a 13- and 12-percentage point gap, respectively.

Policymakers and researchers have noted the trend at the intersection of race and gender and identified several factors for the shifting patterns. First and foremost, they attribute the shift to “changing demographics of the nation’s public school student population,” the Pew Research Center noted. In the past 20 years, minorities have accounted for an increasing percentage of public school enrollment, while labor barriers have been lowered for women, resulting in a compounding effect that is reflected in college enrollment data. President Obama recently addressed the lagging rates of minority male enrollment, seeking to correct the systematic factors playing against these populations with his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

Alongside this gap in education, there also exists an opposite gender gap in scholarship: Men are cited as being more productive than women. The Chronicle report points out that citation rates are a common measure of productivity, and women refer to their own research much less than men do. Therefore, the dominance of female enrollment rates has been associated with lower rates of academic productivity. There are a handful of explanations to explain this trend, one of which is that female academics are simply less assertive than their male counterparts, and this “systematic unwillingness by women to self-cite may help tip the balance against them,” as the Economist wrote last year. Academia should attempt to correct this imbalance by fostering an environment in which self-citation is not a method of self-promotion, but a way of enriching the intellectual sphere.

The gender gap in scholarship further extends to field-based disparities and will affect the types of jobs that individuals have after graduation. Studies reveal that “first-year female college students are far less likely than their male peers to plan to major in a STEM field,” according to an article on the Association of American Colleges and Universities website. Gender disparities in college majors have a direct influence on the jobs these students take following graduation. As the United States pushes for greater professional influence in the STEM fields, the gender gap could achieve the opposite, perpetuating a system in which fewer STEM professionals are entering the job force. All these findings taken together lead us to believe that universities should seek to increase enrollment among male minority students, to encourage self-citation among women in academia and to encourage more women in higher education to pursue STEM fields.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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