Academic journal article Social Work

Demographic Trends in Social Work over a Quarter-Century in an Increasingly Female Profession

Academic journal article Social Work

Demographic Trends in Social Work over a Quarter-Century in an Increasingly Female Profession

Article excerpt

Social work has long been concerned with issues of diversity. According to the NASW Code of Ethics (2000),"Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, and mental or physical disability" (p. 9). If social workers' concerns with issues of opportunity and representation extend to virtually all practice, program, and policy arenas, it is reasonable to assume that social workers are also interested in the changing demographics of their profession. In this article, we examine the age, gender, and race and ethnicity of social workers in the context of the growth in the profession. Data on faculty in schools of social work are also examined because faculty members have influential roles as educators and developers of social work knowledge.

Growth and demographic changes from year to year are almost imperceptibly small in social work, masking the substantial changes that have occurred over the past several decades. Tracing the growth of one future-oriented source of data--social work education--over nearly three decades, we focus on selected demographic characteristics of gender, race and ethnicity, and age of recent graduates and faculty of social work programs in the United States.

Demographic characteristics of a profession can be obtained from various sources, each with its own advantages and limitations. In 31 states, the title "social worker" is restricted to professionals educated in social work, but title protection laws vary considerably across states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the U.S. Department of Labor is perhaps the most comprehensive source of data on individuals who are employed in social work. BLS statistics from 2000 indicated that social workers then held 468,000 jobs in the United States (http://www.bls. gov/oco/ocos060.htm). Unfortunately, individuals holding the title of social worker may have no formal training in social work, and professionally educated and other-trained social workers are mixed together in the BLS survey data (Barth, 2003).

Data gathered periodically by NASW also merit consideration. NASW first surveyed its members about demographic characteristics in 1961, and did so again in 1982 ("Membership Survey" 1983). A more comprehensive effort was undertaken from 1986 to 1987, when NASW began to build a computerized membership database (see Gibelman & Schervish, 1997). The limitations of the data collection format were improved upon in the following year, and using 1988 and 1991 data based on this instrument, NASW published Who We Are: The Social Work Labor Force as Reflected in the NASW Membership (Gibelman & Schervish, 1993).A second edition, based on 1995 data, was published in 1997. However, the authors estimated that approximately 32 percent of professionally trained social workers are NASW members, thus raising questions about the generalizability of the data. A recently released study, based on a stratified random sample of 10,000 licensed social workers, partially overcomes this problem, but nonetheless achieved only a 49 percent response rate (Center for Workforce Studies, 2006).

Changes in the demographics and size of the professional workforce can also be understood by examining Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) annual reports, Statistics on Social Work Education. With the establishment of CSWE in 1952, the profession had a mandate to gather demographic data on the faculty and students in its schools of social work, which then included Canadian schools. The council has been gathering information on accredited schools of social work since its inception and, although such data were initially limited in scope, CSWE has published an annual report since 1958. With the exception of a small number of international graduates working in the United States, all professionally trained social workers in this country were trained in CSWE-accredited schools of social work. …

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