Women losing out in science

September 5, 1997

MORE THAN one third of female science graduates are employed in jobs for which they are overqualified, according to research published this week, writes Julia Hinde.

Thirty-two per cent of employed female science graduates aged between 21 and 65 are in non-professional jobs for which a degree is not normally required, according to Judith Glover, of the Roehampton Institute London, and Jane Fielding, of Surrey University, who have analysed results from annual labour force surveys. The figure for male science graduates is just 19 per cent.

Twenty years ago, the figures for female science, engineering and technology (SET) graduates was 19 per cent, and 16 per cent for males.

The research also indicates that one in three employed female SET graduates are teachers, but just one in ten male SET graduates choose a teaching career.

A longitudinal analysis of work histories of male and female SET graduates using the National Child Development Study, which includes all those born in Britain in a certain week in 1958, also reveals that women are significantly less likely to stay in scientific professional jobs than men.

The results show women are more likely to be in temporary, short-term scientific jobs and that female employment in professional science jobs decreases over time, especially over the age of 29, which coincides with an apparent peak in childbirth. But employment as teachers increases correspondingly.

The report finds a lack of parity between female graduates without children and male SET graduates. At the age of 33, 56 per cent of men are in SET professional or managerial jobs, compared with 34 per cent of childless women.

Seven per cent of men are working in teaching at the age of 33, compared with 24 per cent of women without children and 40 per cent of women with children.

Dr Glover said: "We have always suspected that women with science degrees become teachers and do less well economically. This has now been confirmed.

"There is the expectation from government policy that if you get girls qualified in science, all will be well. There is very little government policy for women after they qualify. But it appears from our research that getting qualified is only one side of the equation."

She adds: "One perspective is that it is expensive to train science graduates. If women are not becoming professional scientists, this represents a poor return for the initial outlay.

"From an equal opportunities perspective, if women become teachers then this is also a concern, because they disproportionately become primary school teachers where average pay is lower than in secondary schools and opportunities for promotion are often less."

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