Understanding the Dearth of Women in Science

Maria (Mia) Ong
The Harvard Community Resource, Vol. 7 No. 1, July 2005


Over the past 50 years, women have made tremendous strides in education and in professions in all fields, including science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET).

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2001, women made up 56 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients, though they comprised less than 45 percent of bachelor’s recipients in the natural sciences and engineering. Within the latter category, women’s representation approached or exceeded 50 percent in some fields (chemistry, mathematics, and biology) but hovered around 22 percent in others (physics, computer science and engineering).

Perhaps with the exception of biology, the further a woman travels along an academic path in science or engineering – graduate school, postdoc, faculty or other high-level positions – the less female company she is likely to have. Similar trends apply for underrepresented ethnic and racial minorities.