Humanities Indicators
Facebook Twitter YouTube
Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Gender Distribution of Bachelor's Degrees in the Humanities
(Updated May 2017)

The share of humanities bachelor’s degrees awarded to women has traditionally been higher than that for all fields combined, but the gap has narrowed in recent years.

Findings and Trends

  • Women received 61% of the humanities bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2015—four percentage points higher than the share among all degree recipients (Indicator II-5a). From 1987 to 2015, the annual percentage of women earning bachelor’s degrees in the humanities remained within a range of four percentage points—from just above 58% (in 1995) to a high of slightly above 62% (in the early 2000s).
  • With 61% of the field’s degrees going to women, the humanities were most akin to the fine and performing arts (62%) in the representation of women among bachelor’s degree recipients in 2015. The health and medical sciences (with 84%), education (72%), and social sciences (63%) each had a greater share of women completing degrees in the field than the humanities, while engineering (19%) and business and management (47%) had substantially smaller shares.
  • Among the humanities disciplines that can be tracked back to the mid-1960s (these disciplines, designated “historical categories” in the figure, consist of degrees in English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English, linguistics, classical studies, and philosophy), the share of bachelor’s degrees earned by women increased from 54% in 1966 to a high of 60% in the early 2000s. Since 2007, the share has hovered around 58% in these humanities disciplines.
  • Among the “historical categories,” languages and literatures other than English had the largest share of female degree completers in almost every year for which data exist (70% in 2015; Indicator II-5a1). Philosophy consistently had the lowest share (32% in 2015). When the full complement of humanities disciplines is considered, cultural, ethnic, and gender studies granted the largest share in 2015 (80%) and has done so since 1991.
  • In almost every humanities discipline, the share of degrees earned by women was somewhat larger in 2015 than in the first year for which data are available. Two notable exceptions are the study of the arts as well as languages and literatures other than English (LOTE). Both disciplines began with a substantial female representation among degree completers (71% of LOTE degree recipients in 1966 and 68% of degree recipients in the study of the arts in 1987), but by 2015 the share of women had declined—one percentage point among LOTE degree recipients and 10 percentage points among degree recipients in the study of the arts (to 58%).
  • The share of philosophy degrees that were earned by women increased from 19% in 1966 to 32% in 1985 and remained near that level through 2015. Among history degree recipients, the share of women rose from 35% in 1966 to a high of 41% in 2000, before falling slowly back to 40% in 2014 and 2015. (Size disparities among fields must be considered when comparing rates of change on this measure or any other; see Indicator I-2c: Number of Humanities Bachelor’s Degree Completions, by Discipline, 1987–2014.)
  • The share of female bachelor’s degree recipients earning degrees in the humanities can also be examined. From 1966 to 2015, the share of women earning bachelor’s degrees in the historical categories of humanities disciplines declined sharply (Indicator II-5b). In 1966, 22% of the degrees earned by women were awarded by these humanities disciplines. That share fell below 8% in 1982, rose back above 9% in the early 1990s, and then trended downward again. In 2015, women were less likely than ever to have pursued undergraduate humanities study of this kind, with 6% of female graduates receiving degrees in these disciplines.
  • The full set of humanities disciplines comprised a larger share of the bachelor’s degrees earned by women in 2015 than 1987, but the percentage of female degree earners who majored in the field decreased from 16% in 2009 to 13% in 2015 (the smallest share on record). Women were more likely to have studied behavioral and social sciences (17% of all bachelor’s degrees earned), the health and medical sciences (16%), and business and management (15%).
  • The post-1966 decline in the share of women earning degrees in the historical categories of the humanities was smaller than the drop in the percentage of women earning degrees in education over the same period (the latter share shrank from 40% to below 8% in 2015). The field of business and management experienced the largest growth in the share of women earning degrees after 1966, rising from less than 3% of the degrees earned by women in 1966 to over 22% in 1987. The share shrank to 15% in 2015. From 1966 to 2015, the percentage of the women earning bachelor’s degrees in the health and medical fields increased substantially from 5% to almost 16%.
II-5a: Percentage of Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Academic Fields, 1966–2015*

* Degrees for 1966–1986 are classified by the academic field categories employed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Degrees for 1987–2010 are categorized using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for an explanation of the differences between the two classification systems and the Degree Program Code Catalog for a description of the types of degrees counted as humanities degrees under each classification system. For years 1966–1986, the NSF academic field category of “Arts and Music” is used. This category includes the academic study of the arts (e.g., art history and film studies). For years 1987–2010, degree data are available by CIP code, making possible the removal of such degrees from the count for “Fine and Performing Arts” and their inclusion among humanities degrees.
** Only some humanities disciplines have been tracked by the federal government since 1966. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for further explanation.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, Survey of Earned Degrees, Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS), and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppII-5a.xlsx../cmsData/ppt/indII-5a.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-5a.pdf
II-5a1: Percentage of Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded to Women, Selected Disciplines, 1966–2015*

* Only some humanities disciplines have been tracked by the federal government since 1966. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for further explanation.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, Survey of Earned Degrees, Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS), and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppII-5a1.xlsx../cmsData/ppt/indII-5a1.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-5a1.pdf
II-5b: Share of Female Bachelor’s Degrees Recipients Who Majored in Selected Academic Fields, 1966–2015*

* Degrees for 1966–1986 are classified by the academic field categories employed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Degrees for 1987–2010 are categorized using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for an explanation of the differences between the two classification systems and the Degree Program Code Catalog for a description of the types of degrees counted as humanities degrees under each classification system.For years 1966–1986, the NSF academic field category of “Arts and Music” is used. This category includes the academic study of the arts (e.g., art history and film studies). For years 1987–2010, degree data are available by CIP code, making possible the removal of such degrees from the count for “Fine and Performing Arts” and their inclusion among humanities degrees.
** Only some the humanities disciplines have been tracked by the federal government since 1966. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for further explanation.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, Survey of Earned Degrees, Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS), and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/suppII-5b.xlsx../cmsData/ppt/indII-5b.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-5b.pdf