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Campus Women Lead

Spring 2006

Volume 35
Number 1

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Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2004
By Amy N. Addams, Editor, On Campus With Women

The data from the 2004 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) were recently released in Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2004. The survey is sponsored by six federal agencies, with data collection and analysis conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The SED collects data on recipients of research doctorates, e.g., PhD, DSc, and EdD, which are then analyzed by broad field of study*, sex, race/ethnicity, and citizenship.


Between Summary Report 2003 and Summary Report 2004, there was a 3.4 percent increase in the number of research doctorates (hereafter referred to as “doctorates”) awarded by U.S. universities, with the total number of doctorates granted 42,155. Women earned 45.4 percent of all research doctorates, which represents almost no change from 2003. Excitingly however, 2004 marks the ninth consecutive year in which women have earned more than 40 percent of doctorates. For comparison, in 1994, women represented 39 percent of doctoral recipients; in 1974, they represented only 20 percent of recipients.

The past thirty years have seen an overall increase in representation within all broad fields of study, though it is important to note that there are significant differences in the percentage of women doctorates between the fields. For instance, while women represent 66 percent of education doctorate recipients and 55 percent of those in the social sciences, they represent only 27 percent and 18 percent of physical sciences and engineering doctorate recipients, respectively. Though the data for certain broad fields may be somewhat discouraging, when placed in historical context, they reflect significant increases in representation. For comparison, in 1974 women represented only 8 percent of physical sciences doctorate recipients and 1 percent of engineering doctorate recipients.

Similar trends are also seen in broad fields that have had historically higher representation of women. While in 1974, women earned only 24 percent and 31 percent of doctorates in the social sciences and humanities respectively, in 2004, they represented over half of the doctoral recipients in these broad field categories. And in the life sciences, women went from comprising 28 percent of the doctorate recipients thirty years ago to comprising 50 percent in 2004. In all Science and Engineering (S&E) fields combined, women earned 39 percent of doctorates; in non-S&E fields, they earned 57 percent of all research doctorates. The most significant increases in the representation of women have occurred within several S&E subfields--earth, atmospheric, and marine sciences; agricultural science; physics and astronomy; computer science; and math.

Race and Ethnicity

In 2004, members of U.S. racial and ethnic minority groups earned 20 percent of the doctorates awarded to U.S. The total number of doctorates awarded to members of U.S. minority groups in 2004 was 5,066, up from 4,901 in 2003. The 2004 data represent the highest percentage of minority doctorate recipients recorded in the SED. Of the five major racial/ethnic groups, African Americans earned the most doctorates (1869), followed by Asians (1449), Latina/os (1177), American Indians/Alaska Natives (129), and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (59). There were significant increases in the number of doctorates earned by members of U.S. minority groups throughout the 1990s, and the number of doctorates awarded to members of minority groups in 2004 is 14 percent higher than in 1999 and 63 percent higher than in 1994.

The broad fields of education (24 percent of U.S. citizens earning doctorates), professional/other fields (23 percent), and engineering (22 percent) had the highest presence of members of U.S. racial and ethnic minority groups. Physical sciences and humanities had the lowest representation, with members of U.S. minority groups representing only 15 percent of U.S. citizens earning doctorates in each of these broad field categories. It is important to note that there are significant differences in representation of different minority groups by broad field. While African Americans constituted the largest minority population earning doctorates in education, social sciences, and professional/other fields, Asians represented the largest minority population in physical sciences, engineering, and life sciences. Latina/os comprised the largest minority population in humanities.

On a positive note, African Americans, Asians, and Latina/os have all experienced increases in the number of doctorates earned since 1984. However, on a negative note, 2004 saw a decrease in the number of American Indian/Alaska Native doctorate recipients in every broad field category. In addition, the number of Latina/o/a doctorate recipients was unchanged in physical sciences and actually dropped in education and social sciences between 1999 and 2004.

The Summary Report 2004 disaggregates the total percentage of doctorates awarded by race and sex. For African Americans, various Latino groups, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, women comprised the majority of recipients, ranging from 51 to 66 percent. Women earned 50 percent of the doctorates awarded to Asians, marking the first year Asian women have earned as many doctorates as Asian men. There was also broad gender parity among whites, with women earning 50 percent of the doctorates awarded to this group. Unfortunately, the Summary Report does not disaggregate by race and sex within the broad fields or subfields.

Parental Education Background

The SED establishes three categories for assessing the parental education background of doctorate recipients: high school diploma or less; some college, including earned baccalaureate; and advanced degree, including master’s, doctorate, or professional degree. Overall, fewer than 1/3 (29 percent) of recipients’ fathers had a high school diploma or less, while 37 percent of recipients’ mothers were in this category. Thirty-seven percent of recipients’ fathers had at least some college, while 42 percent of recipients’ mothers were in this category. For parents with advanced degrees, 34 percent of recipients’ fathers fell into the category as compared with 21 percent of their mothers.

Though there was only a small variation between the parental education backgrounds for male and female doctorate recipients, women were slightly more likely than men to have a father and mother who had either attended college or had advanced degrees. However, there is considerable difference between racial and ethnic groups, with Asian doctorate recipients the most likely to report having parents with advanced degrees. African Americans, Latina/os, and American Indians/Alaska Natives were more likely than whites or Asians to report having parents with a high school diploma or less.


1.5 percent of respondents reported having one or more disabilities. Female recipients reported a disability more often than men (1.8 percent versus 1.3 percent), and more U.S. citizens reported having a disability than temporary or permanent residents. Respondents indicating a disability were more likely than their counterparts to earn a doctorate in a non-S&E field (51 percent and 35 percent respectively).

Financial Support and Resources

The SED included two questions about financial support and resources experienced by recipients. The first question asked respondents to complete a checklist of 14 potential sources of support; the second asked respondents to rank their primary and secondary sources of support. Sixty-nine percent indicated that their primary source of financial support was program- or institution-based (e.g., assistantships, fellowships), while 25 percent ranked their own personal or family resources as their primary source of support. There were significant differences by field, with a large percentage of the doctorate recipients in physical sciences reporting assistantships or fellowships (91 percent) and less than one third of recipients in education reporting the same (29 percent).

There were also gender differences, with women more likely than men to report using their own resources as their primary source of support (32 percent versus 19 percent). The researchers attribute this discrepancy in part to differences in gender representation between broad fields of study. Differences were also found among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, with American Indians/Alaska Natives and African Americans more likely to name personal resources as their primary source of support than whites, Latina/os, and Asians (in that order). This is also somewhat attributable to representation of different groups in different fields.

In terms of education-related indebtedness, there was little difference between the sexes, though men were slightly more likely than women to finish with no education-related debt (51.4 percent versus 48.5 percent). There were, however, significant differences between ethnic and racial groups, with African Americans, Latina/os, and America Indians/Alaska Natives incurring large amounts of education-related debt. The data indicate this is graduate school related debt, not carryover debt from undergraduate education.

Postgraduate Plans and Commitments

The majority of doctorate recipients, 70 percent, indicated they had definite commitments for employment or postdoctoral study. This definite commitment rate applies to five of the seven broad fields, with humanities and engineering doctorate recipients reporting 63 percent commitment levels. There are slight gender differences, with 69 percent of women reporting definite commitments compared with 71 percent of men. Whites were more likely than any other U.S. racial and ethnic group to have definite commitments following completion of the degree, at 73 percent, compared with 71 percent for American Indians, 70 percent for Latina/os, 67 percent for African Americans, and 65 percent for Asians.

Sixty-five percent of recipients indicated definite plans for employment, though the 35 percent who reported plans for postdoctoral study “is the highest level ever recorded in the SED.” Within the postdoc group, men are more represented than women (38 percent versus 32 percent), though levels are at all time highs for both men and women. Differences are also seen between U.S. racial and ethnic groups, with Asians and whites most likely to pursue postdocs. These sex and race/ethnicity differences are due in large part to greater representation by men, whites, and Asians in physical and life sciences, fields in which postdoctoral study is more common.

Fifty-seven percent of recipients named higher education as their site of definite employment, followed by industry or self-employment (19 percent), other employment sectors (e.g., primary and secondary education, NGOs, foreign governments) (17 percent), and U.S. federal, state, or local government (8 percent). Recipients in humanities were the largest contingent to name higher education as their employment sector (84 percent) and engineering the smallest (22 percent). Those fields most likely to have higher education as the primary employment sector generally also had the highest representation of women, which contributed in part to more women than men reporting commitments in academe (61 percent versus 52 percent). Within racial and ethnic groups African Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives were most likely to report employment commitments in “other employment” sectors, which reflects their high representation in the broad field of education.

The Summary Report 2004 explores more detailed analysis not only of the categories included above, but also of data pertaining to citizenship, time to degree, and types of institution conferring the most doctorates, to name a few. To read more, or to access the tables and the survey itself, visit The Summary Report is available for free download from this site.

Citation: Hoffer, T.B., V. Welch, Jr., K. Williams, M. Hess, K. Webber, B. Lisek, D. Loew, and I. Guzman-Barron. 2005. Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2004. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. (The report gives the results of data collected in the Survey of Earned Doctorates, conducted for six federal agencies, NSF, NIH, USED, NEH, USDA, and NASA by NORC.)

*The seven broad fields are physical sciences, engineering, life sciences, social sciences, humanities, education and professional/other fields, which includes business, communications, social work, and theological programs.

**”A total of 383 non-Hispanic U.S. citizens reported more than one racial background in the 2004 survey, and are counted here as racial/ethnic minorities, but they and the 59 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are grouped in the ‘other’ category and not shown separately…because of the lack of trend data.” This is reflective of the changes in the U.S. census, which in 2000 separated Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders from Asians and also allowed respondents to mark all racial and ethnic groups to which they belong.

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