Physics Doctorates Went To Just 66 Black Women In A Span Of 39 Years

June 22, 2015  |  

Between 1973 and 2012, the number of Black women who earned a physics doctorate during this time frame will make you cringe — only 66. According to Quartz, being a “double minority” is to blame for these paltry statistics.

Yes, you read correctly. During a span of almost four decades — 39 years, if you want to get technical — fewer than 70 Black female students earned a physics PhD. Quartz gives us a snapshot of the racial and gender disparity in the science field:

Women

Whites earned 2,488 physics PhDs, Asians reeled in 625, Latinos racked up 106, Blacks scored 66, and Native Americans attained six.

Men

Whites earned 22,172 physics doctorates, Asians reeled in 2,480, Latinos racked up 615, Blacks scored 354, and Native Americans attained 47.

Now the question is: Why are the numbers for women of color so low? First, let’s take a look at it from the angle of gender. Quartz says that from a young age, girls are often pushed away from STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) professions.

A recent study, according to the New York Times, says that schoolteachers’ biases are the main culprits behind gender gap in STEM.

“The most surprising […] finding in the paper is that a biasing teacher affects the work choices students make and whether to study math and science years later,” said Victor Lavy, an economist and co-author of the study.

In the study, when teachers graded test papers without knowing the names of the students, girls scored higher on the math exams, but when the tests were not anonymous — and the teachers knew the genders identified with each name — boys scored higher on the exams.

Lavy concluded that teachers overestimated boys’ abilities and underestimated girls’ strength in math.

And as for race, children of color tend to have fewer resources at their disposable, which pivots them away from STEM careers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 57 percent of Black students have access to a full range of advanced STEM courses. Compare this to 71 percent of White students.

With Black women battling both race and gender barriers, Quartz concludes that being a “double minority” is one of the obstacles facing women of color.

But it’s not all bad. Black women may have a low number of physics PhDs, but doing a little calculation myself (correct me if I’m wrong), African-American women make up 16 percent of all Blacks who earned the doctorate. Among all Whites, just 10 percent of women earned a physics PhD.

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