Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Demographic Inertia Revisited: An Immodest Proposal to Achieve Equitable Gender Representation among Faculty in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Demographic Inertia Revisited: An Immodest Proposal to Achieve Equitable Gender Representation among Faculty in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Progress toward equitable gender representation among faculty in higher education has been "glacial" since the early 1970s (Glazer-Raymo, 1999; Lomperis, 1990; Trower & Chait, 2002). Women, who now make up a majority of undergraduate degree earners and approximately 46% of Ph.D. earners nationwide (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2003), rarely make up more than 30% of faculty at Research Extensive universities. Although the total number of tenure-track women faculty in higher education has increased steadily for the past 35 years, this increase and women's advancement through faculty ranks are described as excruciatingly slow (Valian, 1999).

Several broad perspectives attempt to explain or describe the paucity of women in various occupations. Although these theories encompass all types of occupations and tend to focus on occupational gender segregation, they also illuminate possible reasons for unequal gender representation among faculty in higher education. The prevailing perspectives group loosely into three categories: theories based on human capital (a neoclassical economic theory), on unaccommodating cultures and privilege maintenance (a feminist perspective), and on institutional organization (a structural perspective).

Human capital theory focuses on individuals as rational actors who seek employment in accordance to their personal characteristics or human capital--that is, their own bundle of acquired skills, experience, knowledge, education, preferences, and limitations (Becker, 1964). With regard to the supply of labor, the theory posits that women choose occupations that require less human capital or that impose fewer penalties for temporarily leaving the workforce in order to care for children. Applied to university faculty, such theories would propose that women are drawn away from academia (or certain disciplines within it) because it is an occupation that requires more than 40 hours of work per week, hampering a healthy family-work balance. When women leave the labor force, they also interrupt their on-the-job accumulation of human capital, placing them at a disadvantage to their counterparts upon reentering the labor market. In academia, this could be evident in gender differences in the time needed to complete a Ph.D. or in the time between graduation and landing a tenure-track position. The flip side of the issue--employer demand for labor--emphasizes that women incur higher indirect labor costs than men do (particularly due to replacement and training costs), causing rational-acting employers to prefer men and resulting in a predominantly male occupation.

When employers act on their own individual prejudices by hiring employees only from a certain group, they are said to be "bad actors" practicing taste discrimination (Ferree & McQuillan, 1998, p. 9). Because a bad actor is acting on personal tastes rather than on rational decisions, his or her behavior will be negatively reinforced by market forces until the hiring discrimination stops or the business closes (preferences cause greater labor demand, driving wages upward until labor costs become too high for the business to profit). Since bad actors are eliminated by market forces, human capital theory suggests that the root of hiring discrimination grows outside the market. Thus resolving such discrimination requires greater attention to gender socialization in other social institutions such as education, law, and the family.

Feminist perspectives explain the lack of women in academia by focusing on interaction in the workplace, claiming that on-the-job socialization and the maintenance of unearned male privileges create a chilly climate or a work environment unaccommodating to women (Padavic & Reskin, 2002). According to privilege maintenance perspectives, a group of male workers learns to enhance unearned privileges by wielding social tools in the workplace to the disadvantage of women colleagues. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.