Doctoral Knowledge and the Gender Gap

Photo : Pierre Jayet
Doctoral School at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France.

In launching the blog for Doctoral Knowledge we wanted to take advantage of International Women’s day which allows us to combine our interests in the doctoral education experience and ongoing work in Grenoble Ecole de Management on the impact of gender differences. Here Mark Smith takes the opportunity for us to start blogging.

The rapid increase in female employment has been accompanied by increasing parity among women and men in their educational achievements. Anyone working in a business school today will be familiar with classes that are frequently gender balanced.

Indeed in some countries women’s educational achievements surpass those of men. These increases in educational investment have extended to women following doctoral programmes although parity is still a little way off.

In Grenoble around 30% of our doctoral students are women and they account for a quarter of our alumni. The higher than average share of part-time doctoral students in Grenoble may explain this relatively low proportion. One of the challenges of part-time doctoral education is that these studies require students to combine their professional working lives with time to study as well as other non-work activities. Since women take on a greater share of these non-work activities their time for additional studies is inevitably more constrained than that for men. The fees may also be a factor since disparities in pay, and thus available income to pay for high-level courses, remain hard to close.

Segregation has an impact

The segregation of women and men we observed in early stages of education and on the job market is replicated to some extent in choice of subject areas for doctoral studies. We see an overrepresentation of women in arts and humanities doctoral programmes but an underrepresentation in business, physical sciences and mathematics. Salaries associated with doctoral qualifications also tend to be higher in these more male-dominated disciplines.

In spite of the increases in women’s educational attainments pay gaps between women and men persist. Early explanations for pay gaps placed a lot of emphasis on these so called ‘human capital’ explanations but the persistence of pay inequality demonstrates that education alone is not the solution to closing pay inequalities. In fact neither is legislation a magic bullet. This year marks 40 years of the first directives for equal pay in the European Union yet the pay gap remains around 16% in the EU with a slightly higher figure in the US.

Assessing Progress

To assess progress since the mid-1970s, this month we published a special issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics on the topic a pay inequalities – guest edited between University of Brighton, Grenoble Ecole de Management and University of Cambridge. One of the papers by Ute Schulze in this special issue examines the pay gap between women and men with Phds. Using a sample of phd graduates across many disciplines the author demonstrates pay gaps are much more dramatic among women and men with doctoral level education when they work in the private sector compared to when they remain in academic careers. One advantage of academic careers is the relative transparency of criteria for promotion with the heavy focus on publication output. Nevertheless a pay gaps exist between women and men in academic careers too. There are large pay differences within certain fields of study particularly biomedical sciences and social sciences. The author argues that men’s careers trajectories and their choice of discipline allows them to take advantage of the pay premia associated with certain disciplines and jobs in the private sector.

Need for Vigilence

What these results demonstrate is that the pay gap is both far from closed and also a moving target. Women have successfully closed the gap in terms of educational attainment but nuanced patterns of gendered job ‘choices’ and dynamics on the job market serve to open up new gaps or reinforce old ones – even among the best educated and well paid. This requires vigilance from managers, organisations and funding bodies in terms of access to doctoral studies but also recognition by individuals themselves of the impact of the choices made in terms of subject areas, sector and type of qualification they invest in.


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