An assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at SMU, Lincoln is an expert on how occupations transition from being either male- or female-dominated.
The article notes that Lincoln’s research has found that women now dominate the field of veterinary medicine — the result of a nearly 40-year trend that is likely to repeat itself in the fields of medicine and law. Lincoln found three factors that appear to be driving the change: the 1972 federal amendment that outlaws discrimination against female students; male applicants to graduate schools who may be deterred by a growing number of women enrolling; and the increasing number of women earning Bachelor’s degrees in numbers that far exceed those of male graduates, Lincoln says.
WHAT accounts for the increasing proportion of women in the veterinary profession, and does it actually matter?
These are not new questions, but they are worth revisiting in the light of a report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association this month. In the USA, as in the UK, the gender balance of the veterinary profession has changed dramatically over the past 30 to 40 years; having previously been very much in the minority, women now make up about 50 per cent of the profession, and the proportion is set to rise further given that women account for nearly 80 per cent of students at veterinary school. The report describes a study undertaken in the USA by Anne Lincoln, a sociologist at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which tried to find out why this has been happening.
Using data provided by the Association of American Veterinary Colleges, Dr Lincoln examined a number of factors that could have affected enrolment to US veterinary colleges between 1975 and 1995. Enrolment of male students fell from 89 per cent in the 1969/70 academic year to 22.4 per cent in 2008/09, with the switch to a female majority occurring around 1987.
The shift to more female students started after 1972, when legislation was introduced in the USA prohibiting discrimination against female students. “I found that, after 1972, when the barriers to entry were dropped, women began enrolling in larger numbers,” Dr Lincoln said. “Male applicants dropped sharply after 1976, the first year that applicant statistics were collected.”
After that, the findings suggested that, in the USA at least, men were put off going to veterinary school by the increasing enrolment of women — a phenomenon Dr Lincoln referred to as ‘pre-emptive flight’. “There was really only one variable where I found an effect, and that was the proportion of women already enrolled in vet med schools,” she said. “So perhaps a young male student says he is going to visit a veterinary medical school, and when he sees a classroom with a lot of women he changes his choice of graduate school. That is what the findings indicate.”
The study found no evidence that men were more concerned about the cost of tuition and salaries. “There has always been this notion for any field that feminises that women don’t care about salaries because they have a husband’s earnings to fall back on,” Dr Lincoln said. “But this study found that men and women are equally affected by tuition and salaries.” She also noted that, in the USA, where veterinary medicine is a postgraduate degree, “fewer men than women are graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, so they aren’t applying because they don’t have the prerequisites.”