Unveiling the Gendered Dynamics of Academic Attrition

Unveiling the Gendered Dynamics of Academic Attrition

Despite higher percentages of female students and graduates and growing percentages of PhD candidates and assistant professors, the academic underrepresentation of women remains an issue (see our Monitor for current figures in Dutch academia). This phenomenon is often explained by the "leaky pipeline" effect, where women leave faculty positions more frequently than men at each stage of their careers, resulting in a progressive increase in male representation in academia.

A recent comprehensive study in the United States, Gender and retention patterns among U.S. faculty, provides insights into gender-related differences in attrition among academics. The researchers examined various fields, different types of institutions, ages, and career stages, leading to the following conclusions:

Overall, women are more likely to leave academia and have less chance of promotion than men at every age and stage of their careers. Notably, the reasons for attrition are gender-related, with women feeling more pushed out of their jobs and less pulled toward better opportunities than men.

These significant gendered differences in attrition over a career imply that even cohorts initially hired with gender parity will become progressively less diverse as they age. The researchers project that a hypothetical gender-equal cohort would decrease to 48.2% women after 15 years, 45.4% after 25 years, and 40.6% after 35 years.

Furthermore, the study reveals that the reasons for leaving academia are also gendered. Women who left academia most often reported factors related to workplace climate, such as dysfunctional departmental culture or leadership, harassment, or a sense of not belonging. In contrast, men most often reported leaving for professional reasons, such as obtaining research funding, salary, and poor administrative support.  

Both men and women who left academia reported reasons related to work-life balance at statistically indistinguishable rates. This lack of difference contrasts with existing literature on gendered retention, which often concludes that work-life balance is the primary reason women leave their jobs, but not men.

This research underscores the critical importance of understanding the nuanced reasons behind attrition in academia. Delve into the complete findings here.