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Women in Science

by UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Fact Sheet No. 51, June 2018

This fact sheet presents the latest UIS data on research and experimental development (R&D) available as of June 2018.

The gender gap in science

Overall, women account for a minority of the world’s researchers. Despite the growing demand for cross-nationally-comparable statistics on women in science, national data and their use in policy-making often remain limited. This fact sheet presents global and regional profiles, pinpointing where women thrive in this sector and where they are under-represented.

Researchers are professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge. They conduct research and improve or develop concepts, theories, models, techniques instrumentation, software or operational methods (Frascati Manual, 2015).  The global map (see Figure 1) depicts the share of women in the total number of researchers by country.

Figure 1. The gender gap in science
Women as a share of total researchers, 2016 or latest year available

Notes: Data in this map are based on headcounts (HC), except for Congo, India and Israel which are based on full-time equivalents (FTE). Data for China are based on total R&D personnel instead of researchers. Data for Brazil are based on estimations.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2018

The vast majority of data are presented in headcounts (HC), which are the total number of persons employed in R&D. This includes staff employed both full-time and part-time. The regional averages for the share of female researchers (based on available data only) for 2015 are:

  • 28.8% for World
  • 48.1% for Central Asia
  • 45.4% for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 39.8% for Arab States
  • 39.5% for Central and Eastern Europe
  • 32.3% for North America and Western Europe
  • 31.3% for Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 23.4% for East Asia and the Pacific
  • 18.5% for South and West Asia

Figures 2, 3 and 4 illustrate women researchers as a percentage of the total number. Based on headcount data, these figures include part-time and full-time researchers.

Notes: -1= 2015, -2 = 2014, -3 = 2013, -6 = 2010, -14 = 2002, -17 = 1999.

Notes: -1=2015, -8 = 2008.

Notes: -1 = 2015, -2 = 2014, -3 = 2013, -4 = 2012, -5 = 2011, -6 = 2010, -7 = 2009, -8 = 2008, -9 = 2007, -11 = 2005, -12 = 2004, -14= 2002, -15= 2001, -16 = 2000, -19 = 1997.

* = Based on FTE data.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2018

Copyright UNESCO 2018


28 Comments

  1. John2o2o says

    Well either women are being oppressed by a malevolent patriarchy or they just have different priorities to men. I know it’s not fashionable to say this, but men and women are different. Women give birth, for example. Men do not. Women prefer to look after children (on average) men prefer to provide for their families (on average, in the whole world). Sadly this no longer happens in the West.

    Therefore, in the whole of the world, on average there are fewer women in paid employment, including this sort of paid employment which requires a greater commitment.

    When I was at school there were two girls who got the top grades in my school year. I was third. The top boy – lol, it wasn’t a great year. In the year above me the top student was a boy. Bizarrely we all went on to study chemistry at university. I don’t know what any of those other people are doing now, but this was the 1980s. There was never any hint of any sort or at any time when I was at school or at university that the girls/women were regarded as in any way inferior to the boys/men. And I never saw or suspected any sort of discrimination. Indeed, it would have been absurd. Scientists are interested in science and are intelligent enough not to be sexist or for that matter racist.

    I look forward to the day when I no longer an subjected to this sort of sexual shaming by women as is implied by this piece. I don’t oppress women.

  2. Vaska says

    Unless I’ve missed something, it looks like everybody’s studiously ignoring the most interesting finding of this research: i.e. that the West trails behind about a good half the world when it comes to the number of women in science. Culturally, this is a very curious and unexpected fact, given the West’s propensity for seeing itself as cultural vanguard of the planet. Evidently, it is not.

    • Jen says

      But we do not know how large the research communities are in developing or Third World countries in comparison with developed or First World countries. It makes no sense to say that women researchers form a large percentage of researchers in Country A compared to their percentage in the research community in Country B if the number of researchers in Country A is small and Country B has a large community. In a country with a very small scientific and research community, one additional researcher who happens to be female will skew the proportion of women researchers quite dramatically.

      We also do not know what areas of science the women researchers work in, in all the countries that are part of this survey; and we do not know either if the women had to go overseas to get their qualifications or were able to study in their own countries to gain them.

      We also need to know if there is significant brain drain of researchers (of both sexes) from some countries to others because that could also influence proportions of male and female scientists in particular countries.

      Note too that no data were available for Australia, Canada or the United States. Since the science and research community in the US can be presumed to be one of the largest numerically in the world, and a significant beneficiary of other countries’ brain drains, we have to query how significant the UNESCO Institute of Science’s fact sheet is.

    • Thanks, Vaska, for picking up the cherries which I studiously picked without comment: From equality between men and women science workers in Latin America, Balkans, ex-Soviets and Far East; down to 1/2 in “The West”; and down again to 1/4 in the Middle East including Israel.

      But I would not beat my breast about our (relatively) low percentage of women scientists. In compensation “Western” countries including Israel are stuffed full of Nobel Prizes in Science, Medicine, Economics and Peace. Perhaps Dr.Johnson would explain that having fewer women “walking on their hind legs” around the lab constitutes “The West’s” advantage.

      But I really rejoice to see even the lowest scoring countries like Chad and India having as many as 1/10th of their scientists being women. That is real progress since Dr.Johnson’s day. But even if these countries were to field an all-male team it would still constitute progress, solid progress — as long as they field scientists and technologists: people in touch with objective reality, not mere word mongers “intoxicated with the exuberance of their own reality”.

  3. Seamus Padraig says

    Men and women are different. Therefore, they will be attracted to different careers and pass-times. Look up James Damore.

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  4. DunGroanin says

    Sorry i just ran into thos on the creepy been, what can be said?
    “Viewpoint: ‘Why most men should pay on first dates'”
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-46164568

    Which includes –
    “I have dated both men and women, and funnily enough, anytime I’ve dated a woman, or gender-diverse person we’ve ended up competing to pay the bill.”

    Divide and rule.

    (I know a older female engineer and one studying to be one currently, they are better then average)

  5. Willem says

    There are less women in science, because science is a ‘male’ construct, by which I mean competition, ego, and all in the interest to make money (if science makes the world better is of no real concern). In other words, being ‘male’ is being pro-neoliberal business.

    The same ‘male’ construct is present in prisons, in politics, in journalism, in all places where business comes first and social issues, like nurture, education, friendship and sacrifice, (constructs that I would call ‘female’ constructs) are not helping you forward if you want to have a career in these professions.

    So if you want to change that, it doesn’t help to send more women to

    Science, prison, politics, or journalism.

    In fact, women in science, politics, prison, journalism behave more like men, than women (Hillary Clinton is a good example, or all those female journalist who work for the Guardian, or Ayn Rand as political philosopher; they are al ‘men’ in my opinion). Which shows that science, politics, journalism, crime is not a natural construct but an ideological construct. Change the ideology, and you will see more women in science, etc.

    Of course, the UN report does not say anything about the ideology of the ‘male’ construct in science, as the UN is too blind to see their own bias, that is: the UN is also a ‘male’ construct where competition, ego, and the interest to make money comes first.

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    • George cornell says

      That is a rather dark view. Most of the good scientists I know (after 45 years as one of them) were first attracted and then continue to be motivated by that wonderful thing called curiosity.

      • George, “that wonderful thing called curiosity” and that childlike sense of wonder which is so much more satisfying than money.

        “All things bright and beautiful / All creatures great and small / All things wise and wonderful / The Lord God made them all”.

        “Except for that time a Child was cradled in a manger, no cultural movement so powerful has entered the world as quietly as Science.” — Anon

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  6. Alan Tench says

    Not an issue. If there’s a so-called ‘gender gap’ in science it’s because women don’t want to do it. What about the ‘gender gap’ in rubbish collection? No one seems to bang on about that, even though the number of women employed in this vital task is miniscule. I’m sick to the back teeth of listening to rabid feminists going on about how women are discriminated against. In most cases it’s a simple life choice. Women and men are equal, but different.

  7. mark says

    Over 95% of the prison population are men. 94% of fatal industrial accidents are men.
    This gross sexism has got to stop!!!
    We need to imprison many, many more women URGENTLY.
    More women need to die at work NOW.
    ONLY THEN CAN WE SAY WE HAVE SMASHED THE VILE PATRIARCHY!!!

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      • mark says

        We need to base everything on ethno/ gender/ sexual orientation/ disabledism norming.
        Aren’t there just too many black rappers and basketball players? Aren’t there just too many Jewish lawyers and accountants? Too black, too Jewish. More diversity required, urgently. Quotas are needed now. Let’s see some Chinese rappers and Pakistani basketball players, preferably gay and disabled if at all possible. And let’s see some Rastafarian lawyers and accountants now. If we got cracking, we could get all these quotas in place and have a perfectly normed society. 50% female lawyers, 10% gay lawyers, the remaining 40% divvied up according to ethnic quotas. That would just leave the trannies and the disabled. Probably have to have separate quotas for them, but it could all be sorted out in double quick time. We’d just have to decide if we needed separate quotas for disabled gay female black lawyers, or if they could be included in the other categories.

        It was confidently predicted a few years ago that if we had a vastly increased number of female politicians, bankers and CEOs, they would all operate as a cooperative sisterhood, seeking agreement and consensus instead of conflict. Wars would never happen. The financial collapse would never have happened. Everything would be transformed for the better. Some say that in the event this new sisterhood proved to be even more backstabbing and self serving than their male counterparts, and even more enthusiastic and loyal servants of an inhuman dysfunctional system. But of course anyone who says that is just a vile, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fascist representative of the evil patriarchy, who probably kicks his dog and cheats at cards into the bargain.

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        • DunGroanin says

          Hillary.
          Sandberg.
          Hespell.
          Etc

          Wouldn’t want to run into them in daylight never mind a dark alley.

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  8. Jen says

    The article doesn’t really tell us much about why women researchers should be so prominent as a proportion of the total scientific research community in some countries – like Chad, Latvia or Saint Lucia – than in others.

    One notes though that several countries where women researchers do make up a high proportion of the total scientific research community happen to have small populations. Their research communities therefore would also be small. Suppose one country has a research community of just four people. If one of those people is a woman, then the proportion of female researchers in that community would be quite large: 25%.

    The takeaway message of the article then is to try to be a big fish in a small pond and do your research in a place where there aren’t that many researchers to begin with.

    It took a whole organisation (UNESCO Institute of Statistics) to write this piece of rubbish?

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    • Want a longer article or my money back says

      Obviously, the article is showing data (numbers) only without statistical analysis. It means this short article did not include analysis. It doesn’t mean it is rubbish.

      Probably a few people worked on collecting the data and one or two proofread it. Almost certainly it’s not the entire UNESCO Institute of Statistics had stopped doing other things just in order to write this piece.

      I am sure, you knew all that .. and much more 😉

  9. George, according to my scientist grandaughters, born of a scientist mother and descended from a scientist grandmother, “the wild rumpus” has long died down. In the time of “God’s Conservative”, Dr. Samuel Johnson 1709-1784, a woman scientist was “Like a dog walking on its hind legs: the wonder not that it is done well but that it is done at all”.

    Compared to the 18th century, today’s ratios of women to men are much more satisfactory: ranging from equality in Latin America, the Balkans and former Soviet Republics, down to 1/2 in Western Europe and the AngloSphere, down again to 1/4 in the Middle East (including Israel). Even the “Least Developed” parts of the world (eg, Chad, Congo, India, Nepal) women form 1/10 of the scientific and technological research community; Dr.Johnson would have been astonished at the performance of women “walking on their hind legs” in Chad, Congo, India and Nepal — perhaps even at a loss for words.

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    • George Cornell says

      Thanks for your comment. You must be proud of your granddaughters. The relentless mindless doctrinaire gender counting which infested the pages of the Fraudian for many years still continues. But it seems generally to be ebbing. But having done so, many hardcore feminists want to scrap if intrinsic inequality is even mentioned. No one is more vehement than the childless. Having children makes converts of those whose zealously espouse nurture over nature. One child raises doubts. Two children and the stock in nature skyrockets. Similar observations are common among the independent minded wrt to gender. The Fraudian was fond of bleating the absurd notion that women are men with different genitalia, never mind that there are chromosomal, hormonal, and gene expression differences. Truth is to be sought especially when the deniers of it are the most deafening. Women have made great strides as you point out. Is it not time to confront the biological differences head on? Surely difference is not always a value judgment, although I concede women have every right to be wary.

      • George, do I detect a longing to receive more femininity from the female sex? Or am I projecting my own nostalgia? Equality of professional attainment is not incompatible with natural differences. But even 5-10% of women in science (in a few low-scoring countries) is a huge world-improvement over the England of Dr.Johnson only 3 centuries ago .

        • George cornell says

          Well spotted but I yearn no less for fairness and merit-based equity. And being surrounded by feminine overachievers in my own nuclear family, I have no doubt that both merit and femininity can cohabit the same individual.

          After the time nature has spent on developing the sexes, it is inconceivable to me that She would not have engineered complementarity, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. For the Fraudian those parts were absurdly, private parts.

    • bevin says

      Am I missing something? Dr Johnson was referring to Methodist women preachers.

      • Well spotted, Bevin. Methodist preachers in the days of “God’s Englishman” Dr.Johnson, scientists in our day. But even in 20th century England I myself heard one of “God’s Conservatives” rejecting a woman candidate with the following objection: “Educate a man and you educate a scientist; educate a woman and you educate a family”.

        Perhaps that attitude still prevails in our 21st century “West”? suggests Vaska on this thread. But I hear from my scientist womenfolk that the topic of male chauvinism in a scientific career is passe’e. In fact, I heard a young Israeli Canadian medic declare that he was thinking of quitting Medicine because “it is becoming a woman’s job”.

        Whether 50% or (as yet) only 10%, chalk this one up for progress.

        • Jen says

          While no doubt that young Israeli Canadian medic’s female cotlleagues may be glad to see the back of him and his chauvinist pig ilk, they need to hang onto as many of their other male colleagues as they can.

          Should medicine (in particular, general practitioners) come to be seen as mostly “women’s work”, the pay levels are likely not to keep pace with pay levels in equivalent areas of knowledge, skill and experience where the gender balance is still skewed in favour of men, and the pay differences will entrench the attitude that medicine is ‘women’s work” and deter men from entering the profession.

          You only have to look at how teaching in primary and secondary schools, and library work changed from being regarded as the preserve of men into “women’s work”, and how the changes in attitude were reflected in pay scales.

  10. George Cornell says

    Interesting information. But the premise, unmentioned or explained, is that women and men should be equally represented. Surely what matters is that there is equal opportunity. There are many possible explanations for gender inequality, not the least of which is gender inequality in interests. Is the author saying that gender inequality is blameworthy? In all cases? Should equality be legislated and coerced, and inequality be punished?
    Let the wild rumpus begin, to quote M. Sendak.

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