The fewer women in STEM programs, the less likely they are to graduate on time, OSU study shows

September 19, 2018 GMT

The fewer women in STEM programs, the less likely they are to graduate on time, OSU study shows

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A woman’s chances of graduating on time with a STEM-based doctorate depend on the number of women who start out in the program with her, a new Ohio State University study showed. The fewer women entering these doctorate programs, the less likely they all are to graduate within six years.

If there’s just one woman in a program, she’s 12 percent less likely to graduate within six years than her male counterparts. For each additional 10 percent of women in the program, women’s collective chances of graduating on time increase by more than 2 percent.

The data suggests the importance of a female support network for women who begin working toward the same degree at the same time, said Bruce Weinberg, an OSU economics professor who helped conduct the research. Researchers combed the data of more than 2,500 students between 2005 and 2016 in 33 graduate programs at six public Ohio universities to reach their conclusions. The study was published on the National Bureau of Economic Research website on Monday.


“It has been nearly impossible to quantify the climate for women in male-dominated STEM fields,” said Valerie Bostwick, a co-author of the study and an OSU economics post-doctoral researcher. “But our data gave us a unique opportunity to try to measure what it is like for women in STEM. What we found suggests that if there are few or no other women in your incoming class, it can make it more difficult to complete your degree.”

Researchers also found that if there is only one woman in her program, she is 10 percent more likely to drop out in her first year. They found that researching money and grades largely didn’t contribute to women dropping out — the levels of money women received in these programs were about the same as men, and women’s grades were only marginally lower than men’s.

Bostwick said that suggests that the academic climate is contributing to women’s drop out rates. “We can only speculate about what it is in the climate that is making it more difficult for women,” Bostwick said. “It may be hard to feel like you belong when you don’t see other women around you. There may be subtle discrimination. We don’t know. But it highlights the fact that women need support, particularly if they are the only ones entering a doctoral class.”