Author(s): Edward Silverman
This article is the first part of a series on the National Science Foundation's (NSF) biennial Ph.D. survey, which discusses the results of an NSF survey that reveals the disparity between the salaries paid to male and female scientists. It reviews the cause of the problem as well as potential solutions.
In 1989, the NSF surveyed 73,611 Ph.D. scientists (response rate was 55%) with varying levels of experience. The survey showed that female Ph.D. researchers earned less than their male colleagues in industry, government, colleges, and universities. The median annual salary paid to women Ph.D. scientists was between 20% and 25.2% less than that paid to men. Other studies have shown that this salary gap persists throughout the career of the scientist. In fact, a study by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology found that pay for male scientists continues to rise until age 65, while salaries for women generally plateau or decline by age 55.
Many of the women scientists interviewed felt that they were being restrained by a male-dominated workforce. It was found that most of the speakers at seminars were men. Because of this domination by men, women are given fewer opportunities for promotion--and fewer chances to generate opportunities for other women or to encourage protegees to enter the sciences.
Some of the other problems that the women scientists raised were:
- The perception that younger women may abandon their career to start a family. They are therefore not given many of the opportunities that their male counterparts are given.
- The belief that the problem would not be eradicated by a new generation. Younger women are hesitant to enter the sciences, knowing that the pay scales are limited.
- The proportion of women earning bachelor's degrees in sciences is no longer rising.
The author notes that there are some attempts to rectify the problem; some companies are making conscious efforts to institute pay equity. These companies have methods of regularly measuring and balancing salaries through merit raises, cash awards, and promotions.
--abstract by Online Ethics Center staff.