NOTE:   For the most recent results and more detailed analysis, please see my Survey Results Page
or my June 2004 STATUS article "Portrait of a Decade".   --JLH

Results from the 2003 CSWA Survey
of Astronomical Institutions

poster presented at the 2003 Women in Astronomy II conference
Jennifer L. Hoffman, Rice University

Karen B. Kwitter, Williams College

and the AAS
Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy

Download the entire 14-page poster:       Postscript (426K)       CorelDraw (111K)



The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy conducted surveys in 1992, 1999, and 2003 to monitor the gender distribution of astronomers at major U.S. research institutions. Data were collected and submitted by representatives of those institutions; in cases of combined physics and astronomy departments, we asked for data representing astronomers only. We present the 2003 results compared with those from previous years. These results differ from those of the AIP's similar 2002 survey of astronomy departments, primarily because the two surveys included different institutions.

List of surveyed institutions

Downloadable survey data

Figures 1 and 2 show the absolute numbers and the fractions of astronomers who are men and women, for all three years of the survey. Rank increases to the right in these graphs; "faculty" and "research" professors are combined at each rank.

Figure 1

Figure 2
The percentage of women continues to increase with time at nearly all levels, with the largest increase at the graduate student level; 30% of graduate students in astronomy are now women. The historical decrease in the percentage of women with increasing rank persists. We also find that both the number and the percentage of female assistant professors have decreased since 1999, which may be cause for concern (however, the 2002 AIP survey results do not show this decline).

The job market may be worsening again; we see an increase in the number of postdocs but decreases in the numbers of assistant and associate professors since 1999.


Figures 3a through 3c show the distribution of male and female astronomers by rank in 1992, 1999, and 2003. That is, they show the percentage of male (female) astronomers who are graduate students, postdocs, etc.

In 2003, a plurality of women in astronomy are graduate students, but this fraction is decreasing with time. Male astronomers in 2003 are evenly divided between graduate students and full professors; they show a similar trend with time toward fewer graduate students and more full professors, so that the disparities in the distribution of men and women between these two ranks are not changing significantly. The percentages of men and women occupying the middle levels are approximately equal.
  Figure 3a
Figure 3b
Figure 3c

The CSWA surveys asked institutions to distinguish between "research" and "faculty" professors in their responses. Figure 4 shows the percentages of faculty astronomers who are men and women; Figure 5 shows the same for research astronomers.


Figure 4

Figure 5
Overall, women are better represented among faculty than among researchers. This suggests that women are not more likely than men to hold soft-money positions. In fact, we find that among assistant professors in 2003, women are more likely than men to be classified as "faculty" (60% of female assistant professors are faculty, compared with 40% of male assistant professors; the distributions are similar at all other ranks).

Other interesting results from this survey:
=>   The percentage of women among current postdocs is approximately the same (22%) as the percentage of women among graduate students in 1992 and among Ph.D. recipients in astronomy in 2000 and 2001 (PhD statistics from the NSF 2001 Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards report). But the percentage of women in graduate school appears to be increasing faster than the percentage of women at the postdoctoral level.
=>   There were a third as many female assistant professors in 2003 as female postdocs in 1999; for men, the fraction was one half.
=>   Female graduate students are better represented at public universities than at private schools, but the opposite is true for female full professors.

This survey had several limitations. We encountered difficulties in standardizing the professorial ranks and faculty/research distinction from institution to institution. Though we attempted to keep the sample as similar as possible to the 1992 and 1999 samples, this occasionally proved difficult as well; it was not alway clear which criteria had been applied in the past, or even which people at a given institution should be considered astronomers! Statistical complications included small numbers and the possibility of counting people with multiple affiliations more than once. However, we feel this survey provides a robust view of the overall progression of women and men into our profession.

Like any good scientific study, this survey raised many new questions. For example, what factors contribute to the persistent decrease in the percentage of women with rank? Is there significant attrition of women during graduate school? Future studies can complement this one by focusing on more narrowly-defined groups and seeking more detailed information.