Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Learning & Education

Veterinary medicine shifts to more women, fewer men; pattern will repeat in medicine, law fields

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.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that 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, says sociologist Anne E. Lincoln.

An assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Lincoln is an expert on how occupations transition from being either male- or female-dominated.

Her study is the first of its kind to analyze the feminization of veterinary medicine from the perspective of examining the pool of applicant data to U.S. veterinary medical colleges from 1975 to 1995, Lincoln said.

As of 2010, the veterinary profession is about 50 percent men and 50 percent women, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, while enrollment in veterinary medical colleges is about 80 percent women.

Departure from convention; new methodology
Conventional occupational research identifies a flip in the gender make-up of a profession by looking at the number of men and women who get hired into that profession, Lincoln said. The current study broke with that convention and instead measured the number of male and female applicants to veterinary medical colleges.

In looking at the applicants for each year, the study controlled for variables that could be a factor: class size, proportion of women on faculty, proportion of women in the classroom, increased tuition and declines in the profession’s average salary. Lincoln found no evidence that any of those factors was statistically significant in explaining why more women than men are applying, she said.

By quantifying the number of men and women attempting to enter veterinary medical colleges the study could determine whether feminization is caused by gender bias in the acceptance process. Lincoln found no evidence of acceptance bias.

Study finds preemptive flight; challenges long-held notions about women
“There was really only one variable where I found an effect, and that was the proportion of women already enrolled in vet med schools,” Lincoln said. “So perhaps a young male student says he’s 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’s what the findings indicate.”

The study puts to rest the long-held notion that men are more concerned than women about the cost of tuition and salaries when choosing a professional field, according to Lincoln.

“There’s always been this notion for any field that feminizes that women don’t care about salaries because they have a husband’s earnings to fall back on,” Lincoln said. “But this study found that men and women are equally affected by tuition and salaries, and that what’s really driving feminization of the field is what I call ‘preemptive flight’ — men not applying because of women’s increasing enrollment. Also, fewer men than women are graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, so they aren’t applying because they don’t have the prerequisites.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports that for the academic year 1980-81, the number of men and women earning Bachelor’s degrees was about the same, around 460,000. From that year on, however, the number of women earning a Bachelor’s increased much faster than the number of men. For 2009-10, 811,000 women earned Bachelor’s degrees, compared to 562,000 men.

First study of its kind to look at college applicant data
Lincoln’s findings are reported online in “The Shifting Supply of Men and Women to Occupations: Feminization in Veterinary Education” in the international journal Social Forces. For a link to the journal abstract and more information, see

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges made available data from its annual, confidential survey of all U.S. veterinary medical colleges for Lincoln to analyze.

The data represented the applications to each of the 27 veterinary medical colleges in existence in the United States from 1975 to 1995. After 1995, veterinary schools implemented substantially different application procedures, making comparisons between pre- and post-1995 data unviable for this study.

Title IX removed barriers to women in vet med
In 1960, the U.S. Census reported that the field of veterinary medicine was 98 percent male, Lincoln found. For the academic year 1969-70, the national average for veterinary medical college male enrollment was 89 percent.

Veterinary medicine began to shift after the 1972 passage of Title IX, the federal amendment that prohibits discrimination against female students. The amendment forever altered the way vet med colleges responded to female applicants, Lincoln said.

“I found that after 1972, when the barriers to entry were dropped, women began enrolling in larger numbers,” Lincoln said. “Male applicants dropped sharply after 1976, the first year that applicant statistics were collected.”

Vet med shifts in 50 years from 98 percent male to 50-50
By 2008-09, the national average for veterinary medicine male enrollment had declined to 22.4 percent. Cornell University’s enrollment, for example, is currently more than 80 percent female, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges.

“It’s really remarkable that in the past 50 years the pendulum has swung the other direction. Today the profession is 50-50,” she said. “It takes time for the men to cycle out. But because the number of women enrolled has been greater than the number of men since 1984, there’s been a wave of women entering the profession.”

“That’s why this study is really pushing the boundaries,” Lincoln said. “This is an occupation that is changing even as I analyze it, so I can watch it as it’s changing. Indications are that it will continue to shift even further toward women, beyond the current 50-50.”

Feminization likely for law, medicine professions
The same phenomenon likely will be seen in coming years in the male-dominated fields of medicine and law, given the increasing numbers of women now entering those fields.

“We can use veterinary medicine as a predictor of what is going to happen in medicine and law,” Lincoln said. “It may take 27 years for medicine and law to become gender-integrated. The pharmacist profession earlier experienced this ‘occupational jostling.’ It takes decades for a profession to feminize because an occupation that is mostly male is going to have generational turnover as the more senior practitioners retire.” — Margaret Allen

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Culture, Society & Family Researcher news SMU In The News

Inside Higher Ed: Having fewer children hits male scientists hard, finds Anne Lincoln research

Inside Higher Ed covered the research of SMU sociologist Anne Lincoln in an Aug. 16 article “Parenthood Gaps and Premiums.”

Lincoln presented the research in mid-August at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The research, which Lincoln conducted with Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University, examined physicists and biologists in academic careers and various aspects surrounding their marital and family status, including satisfaction with the number of children they have. The study was based on a survey of faculty members at the 20 top-ranked graduate programs in both physics and biology, according to the article.

The publication noted: “Why are some disciplines more successful than others at attracting female faculty members and having them rise through the ranks? After decades of discussion of gender equity in the professoriate, increasing attention is going to the phenomenon that disciplinary patterns differ — both in attracting a critical mass of women and in their satisfaction levels.”

The study was funded under a grant of the Research on Science and Engineering program of the National Science Foundation to understand the lack of gender diversity in academic science.

Also covering the research:

EXCERPTParenthood Gaps and Premiums“:

While men are in the majority for both fields, women make up 43 percent of biologists in the departments and only 20 percent of the physicists. The men and women in the study differed in key family characteristics. Men were more likely to be married (83 percent vs. 72 percent) while women were more likely to be divorced (22 percent vs. 16 percent). Men had only slightly more children than did women in the two fields, with men having an average of just over two children, and women just under two.

While the gap in numbers of children was small, attitudes about children and careers were notably different. Of the women in the survey, 45 percent said they had fewer children than they would have liked because of their scientific careers. Only 24 percent of men felt that way. While the numbers show that these regrets are much more prevalent among women, the authors of the paper wrote that they found the male regrets to be “striking.” In fact, the title they gave to their presentation was “Male Scientists Want to Be Fathers.”

Read “Parenthood Gaps and Premiums.”

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Student researchers

Gender gap at top U.S. universities for women scientists

Lincoln2.jpgAccording to the National Research Council in 2006, women earned 44.7 percent of the doctorates awarded in the biological sciences between 1993 and 2004. Yet women comprised only 30.2 percent of the assistant professors at the top 50 U.S. universities.

In physics, the gap is far wider. Anne Lincoln, assistant professor of sociology in SMU’s Dedman College, is researching the reasons for the gender disparities.

In September Lincoln received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program.

Lincoln will examine women’s and men’s reasons for pursuing academic science careers as well as their perceptions about women’s contributions to academic science.

Lincoln and a team of four sociology undergraduate students are nearing the completion of the sampling database. They have been preparing a list of all faculty and graduates students at top-20 biology and physics graduate departments in the United States. From that they will randomly select 2,500 to participate in an Internet-based survey.

ecklund.jpgA subsample of about 150 respondents will later be selected for more in-depth interviews, which will take place in 2009.

“In 2010, we will be wrapping up the study and mostly running analyses on the data,” she says.

Lincoln’s co-investigator is Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University.

In addition to expanding recent scholarly findings related to the role perceptions have in the decision to pursue a career in academic science, Lincoln’s research is expected to provide the “necessary research underpinnings to build university policies and practices that encourage women’s interest in science majors and careers.”

Related links:
Anne Lincoln
Elaine Howard Ecklund
SMU Department of Sociology
National Research Council
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences