Women And Psychology-Related Career Opportunities
Opportunities abound for women in psychology-related careers.
Posted January 6, 2016
As you can imagine, when I (Jonathan) was a psychology major in college in the late 1970s the world was a very different place, especially with regard to women in the field. I remember that most of my Psychology classmates were males and that relatively few women were faculty members in the Psychology Department; the latter was generally true across much of campus. Psychology was clearly a male-dominated field.
In preparing to write this post I have learned that the numbers pretty much back up my almost 40-year memories. Data summarized by Randal Olson shows that females received around 45% of all Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1970. Likewise, according to the American Psychological Association, women received only 30% of all PhDs in psychology in 1975.
That was then, but today I want to raise a few important questions concerning the status of women in psychology: (1) Have women made significant advances as far as earning more undergraduate or graduate degrees in psychology?; (2) Are women finding more career opportunities in higher education as psychology faculty?; and (3) Are the opportunities in other fields for women with a psychology background more attractive now than in the past?
The simple answer to all of these questions is that 40 years has generally seen major increases in the presence of women within psychology and psychology-related career paths. To begin, data from 2010 indicated that 75% of Bachelor’s degrees in psychology were awarded to women—a 30% bump. This increase has been attributed to both more women being enrolled on college campuses, and that women may be drawn to the field (at least for clinical areas) because they view themselves as more empathic than men (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 2002).
Next, APA found that 70% of all PhDs in psychology were awarded to women in 2008. There are two caveats that should be noted when presenting this gain by women. First, women have been awarded the majority of PhDs in most sub-areas of the field, but not in cognitive psychology where women are at 50% of PhD degrees. Second, increases in the number of PhDs has yet to lead to women surpassing men as far as the number of associate (about 50%-50%) or full professors (women 30% and men 70%). One could argue that it will simply take some additional time for women to advance to these more advanced tenured positions.
Finally, the career opportunities are looking quite promising for women in areas related to psychology:
Lawyers 5% (1970) 34% (2015)
Teachers 60% (1970s) 76% (2011)
Federal Government 15% (1976) 44% (2009)
Military 3% (1970) 15% (2009)
Medical Doctors 10% (1970) 33% (2014)
Social Work 64% (early 1980s) 82% (2013)
You can see that there have been increases in all of the career areas listed, of course some more than others. Given the trends for students in college and graduate/ professional school it is likely that these increases will continue.
What are the implications of increasing representation of women in psychology-related fields? On the one hand, the increasing employment trends are a real plus for women, many of who desire a career (e.g., higher education, private practice) in which there is typically greater flexibility. Clearly, the “old-boys network” is breaking down and the opportunities for women in all psychology-related fields are greater than ever. Of course, there are still areas in which women need to have greater representation (e.g., full professors, the military), but the future looks bright.
On the other hand, some have expressed concerns about the increasing numbers for women in psychology-related careers. One concern includes the loss of diversity in these fields. For example, it has been argued that it is important to have male mental health workers to deal with those who seek treatment from a male therapist. This could include a male client who had is dealing with sex and/or aggression issues. Also, the possibility exists that having fewer men in a particular field results in fewer men being encouraged by their peers to enter that field. Finally, it has been argued that the influx of women into a career path may decrease salaries since on average women earn less than men.
In the end, we are optimistic about the current situation with regard to gender in psychology-related careers. We feel that the increased opportunities for women across almost all career paths should be viewed as an important step forward for women. In addition, we believe that there are still sufficient opportunities for men in psychology-related fields. It is not as though men are being shut out of certain careers, and it could be argued that the lower percentages for men may offer greater opportunities to enter various career paths.
Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.
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Additional Links of Interest for this Post
Baron-Cohen S (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends Cogn Sci 6(6): 248–254. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01904-6. PMID 12039606.