Gender segregated sociology

Sociologist, segregate thyself? A little inside-sociology post.

A report from the research folks at the American Sociological Association (ASA) got me thinking about gender-segregated sociology. I added a few numbers from other sources to provide a quick look at three moments of gender segregation within the discipline.

People may (or may not) want to be sociologists, they may or may not be accepted to graduate schools, thrive there (with good mentoring or bad), freely choose specializations, complete PhDs, publish, get jobs, and so on.  As in most workplaces, gender segregation represents the cumulative intentions and actions of people in different institutional settings and social locations.

#1: Phds

Since the mid-1990s, according to data from the National Science Foundation, women have outnumbered men as new sociology PhDs, and a few years ago we approached two-thirds female. In the three years to 2009, however, the number of PhDs has dropped by a third, and women have accounted for two-thirds of that drop. I have no idea what’s going on with that.

For the time being, then, we’re close to 50/50 in gender balance for producing PhDs. But academic careers can be long, so all those years in the 1970s and 1980s when men outnumbered women by so much still affect  today’s discipline. Among members of the ASA today, women are 7 years younger than men, on average. Which means the men are in higher positions, on average, as well.

#2: Specialization

Choosing what area of sociology to study is a combination of personal interest and ambition, institutional setting and mentoring, and happenstance of various kinds. (This is separate from the question of how narrowly to specialize in one’s specialization, which has a big impact on the quantity of publication, since switching topics is risky and costs valuable time.) So it wouldn’t be accurate to describe this as simply a free choice. But, once someone is a member of the ASA, which is open to anyone, then the choice of identifying with a certain area of research is free (or, actually, costs a few dollars a year), through joining sections of the association.

The pattern of section belonging shows a striking level of gender segregation. On a scale of 1 to 100, I calculate the sections are segregated at a level of .28. (That is the same level of segregation I calculated in the gender distribution between major fields for PhDs, such as engineering and social sciences.) Put another way, the correlation between the percentage of women and percentage of men across the sections is a strong -.64. And by both measures the segregation has increased since 2005.

Joining a section means voting to increase the number of presentations in that area at the national conference, getting a newsletter, maybe an email list, being invited to a reception, and having the chance to serve on committees and run for office arranging all those things. At its best it’s a community of scholars interested in similar subjects. Anyway, the point is it’s not a restrictive club or job competition.

#3: Editorial boards

Finally, prestigious academic journals have one or more editors, often some associate editors, and then an editorial board. In sociology, this is mostly the people who are called upon to review articles more often. Because journal publication is a key hurdle for jobs and promotions, these sociologists serve as gatekeepers for the discipline. In return they get some prestige, the occasional reception, and they might be on the way to being an editor themselves someday. I didn’t do a systematic review here, but I looked at the two leading research journals — American Sociological Review and American Journal of Sociology, as well as two prestigious specialized journals — Sociological Methods and Research, and Gender and Society (which is run by its own association, Sociologists for Women in Society, whose membership includes both women and men).

(I included the editors, book review editor, consulting or associate editors, and editorial board members, but not managing editors. The number included ranged from 33 to 73.)

I’m not attributing motives, describing gender discrimination, or even making a judgment on all this. There are complicated reasons for each of these outcomes, and without more research I couldn’t say nature/nurture, structure/agency, system/lifeworld, etc.

But gender segregation never happens for no reason.

Update: Kim Weeden pointed me toward the complete list of section memberships by gender for 2010. So here is a a graph of the gender compositions expanded to include all 49 sections. Also, with that expanded data, I recalculated the segregation level, and it’s .25.

44 thoughts on “Gender segregated sociology

  1. Question about the AJS editorial board stats – did you include consulting editors? The editorial board is comprised of all the members of the Chicago department and no one else, isn’t it?


    1. Yes, I included the consulting editors. (If Chicago is like UNC in this respect, the regular faculty are asked to review pretty often, though, so I figured it was good to include them, too.)


  2. Thanks for putting this together. It’s interesting.

    One place that I think deserves more attention is the post-PhD gender gap, the ratio of women to men who stay active in the discipline in ways that show up in sections, publications, and journal editorial boards. Mary Ann Mason and the UC Faculty Friendly Edge Program are looking at some of this. They find that even women who finish are less likely than their male colleagues to take a tenure track job.

    In my own research with graduate students, I’m finding that this is largely because of conscious decisions these women are making during graduate training rather than an inability to land a tenure-track job upon graduation.


    1. And, I wanted to add, just because they’re conscious decisions doesn’t mean they’re not problematic. In part, these women are choosing what they think is better for them or their families or their future aspirations of a family/partner/lifestyle with less information and current (or future) institutional and cultural support for alternative choices.


  3. I am surprised at the ASR editorial board. I just rotated off and it didn’t seem so male in the last few years. But this looks like other professions, no? As women enter, they re-segregate with women in the less prestigious areas….

    The question is given the complex causal factors, how can we intervene to reduce segregation? if we can’t figure it out in our own backyard, how good can we be as consultants and analysts for other organizations…


  4. Sure we can figure it out in our own back yard. Remember the big controversy over the change in ASR editorship around 2002? As a result of that, ASR and the ASA started paying attention to the racial and gender composition of their journals’ editorial leadership and editorial boards,developed clearer criteria for editorships with some level of monitoring and oversight. The editoriships became much more diverse after that. But when the pressure is off, old patterns tend to reemerge. My guess is that the editorial leadership composition is still scrutinized but I’ll bet the appointments to the editorial board (as opposed to appointments of editors and associate editors) are more discretionary (and probably not reviewed closely by the Committee on Pubs). It’s just an N of 3, but the editorship and editorial board appointments for ASR are made in a framework that subject to more monitoring and oversight than is the case for AJS (which automatically includes the Chicago faculty on its board) and Sage journals like SMR that aren’t official journals of any professional association.


  5. And back to the section issue — we know that more differentiation provides more opportunities for segregation, which almost always leads to more segregation. The huge proliferation of sections over the past three decades has allowed for just that. It’s both a cause and consequence of the fragmentation of the discipline.


  6. I am halfway through my term as a member of the Committee of Publications, and the gender and racial diversity of editorial boards has been reviewed every meeting. Looking down the roster listed in the latest issue, it looks like the gender difference in members is larger among nonwhite than white editorial board members, although, if that’s indeed true, I’m not sure how to interpret that observation.


  7. I’m working on a paper that shows that PhDs (not just in sociology) are segregated by the prestige of the programs from which they receive their PhDs, net of field. I’m using the 1995 NRC rankings to measure program prestige and 1999-2009 iPEDS data.

    The punchline so far (it’s early, yet) is that men and women are segregated by the prestige of their program as well as by field, although field segregation is much stronger. The more surprising result is that prestige segregation is curvilinear, such that men are overrepresented in the top-ranked programs and in lower-ranked programs, and women are overrepresented in the middle.

    The pattern is stronger in some fields than in others. Curiously, in sociology it is reversed: if anything, women are overrepresented among doctoral recipients from top 10 departments, and underrepresented in the middle. I haven’t yet discerned if this is an oddity of the 1995NRC rankings for sociology, a small cell count problem, or something else. “Something else” could be subfield distribution, HT to Phil.

    Shameless plug: I’ll be presenting the paper on the very last session on the last day of ASA in August. If you want to come check it out, please do. Otherwise, it’ll be just me, my fellow session participants, and the stray drunk from the blackjack tables sleeping it off in the back row.

    Kim Weeden


    1. Sounds great, Kim. I assume subfields are like job segregation – like Bill says – the closer you look… But they’re also not unrelated to departmental rankings, I imagine. Tricky.

      Sorry I’ll miss your session – I’m not going to be in Vegas. (Remember: these days, that guy sleeping it off in the back row could be an unemployed sociologist.)


    2. Arrgh. I should have mentioned that I’m working on the paper with two stellar collaborators, Sarah Thebaud and Dafna Gelbgiser. I’m just the lucky one who gets to stay at the meetings until the bitter end to present…


  8. Interesting followup to the data that I published with Shamus Khan and Shauna Morimoto in Craig Calhoun’s big centennial volume for ASA. I am particularly struck by Jeremy’s note about white/nonwhite diffs in size of gender gap – in my ASA experience, the scrutiny is of the “are there any” type and ignores intersectionality, so men of color and white women are the “categories” sought to “create equality” But the MOST interesting finding to me is the sudden drop off in pct of women in the past few years, which I do not have a ready explanation for. The segregation by subfield is especially interesting too, not because it is so large, but because some sections have been self- aware and trying to change their “gender profile” and others not, but the result is not a big difference: theory made a big effort (Barrie Thorne instigated) but Methods didn’t; CBSM and Comp Historical did, but to the best of my knowledge,political didn’t and yet look where they cluster. So recruitment (focused on faculty) efforts may be quickly swamped by student members? And BTW sections vary a lot in the pct of members who are students. How might that affect the section gender (and race) profile?


    1. Thanks, Myra. FYI, that chapter is: “Assessing the Feminist [thirteen] Revolution:The Presence and Absence of Gender in Theory and Practice.” By Myra Marx Ferree, Shamus Rahman Khan & Shauna A. Morimoto. In, Sociology in America : A History. Calhoun, Craig (Editor). University of Chicago Press, 2007. p 438. (Our library has it as an ebook.) It includes analysis of content in the major sociology journals as well as composition.

      From the conclusion:

      Yet we are reflexive enough to know that the process we are up against is gender itself, that gender as an institution is itself the primary problem. In some ways the struggle is to “unmake” gender in sociology no less than in the rest of the social order. This project is not necessarily to make individual gender irrelevant in all regards but continually to work against the ways in which gender structures produce and reproduce power and inequality. That struggle will continue to include ensuring that women can acquire academic jobs and are as likely as men are to get tenure once they have such jobs, to be in leadership and graduate training roles within the top departments, to receive rewards and recognition for their work, and to be gatekeepers and decisionmakers for the discipline as a whole. Although feminist sociologists have gained a large and influential room of their own within the discipline, transforming ‘the master’s house’ with the tools sociology provides remains their unfulfilled aspiration.


  9. As a member or the council of the ASA methods section, I’d be very curious to learn of any positive suggestions that others have for increasing the number of women who pursue methodological scholarship. Feel free to send them directly to me at, if you don’t want to post online, etc.

    I know that this was a topic of discussion and concern in the late 1990s, and it was discussed at the Winter meetings of the methods section in Chicago (maybe 1998?). In fact, I remember Winship himself stating that this was a crucial demographic replacement problem that the methods community needs to solve if it wanted to remain vibrant. But, I haven’t heard anything since (though I may just not have been party to any such discussion, and I’ve only just joined the methods council). This is not to say that prominent junior women have not emerged. They have, such asJennie Brand, Elizabeth Bruch, Beth Hirsh, Erin Leahey, and Yang Yang .

    But, we clearly do not have enough younger scholars interested in teaching advanced quantitative methods, regardless of gender. I am particularly concerned right now, since I am the junior search chair next year at Cornell and we dearly want to attract someone to join the methods training corps (to replace, boo hoo, sob, our lost Beth Hirsh).


  10. I wondered about the methods section, since I was looking at the journal SMR. It’s not in the dataI don’t know why I didn’t notice this, but the table is called “Top Ten Section Choices of Regular and Student Members, and Male and Female Members in 2010” ( So while the ASA lists 49 current sections, the table only has 16 (to get the top 10 of each of the groups listed in the title).


  11. The underlying data for all the sections are here .

    It looks like 36% of the 418 members of the Methodology section are women. 52% of all section memberships are purchased by women; I didn’t look up the proportion of ASA members that are women.



  12. Oh, and for those of you who don’t want to download and convert the table, here are the 10 sections with the lowest % of women (I’m ignoring the people who don’t report gender):

    math soc (17%, n=225)
    rationality & society (19%, 150)
    evolution & sociology (20%, 158)
    Marxist sociology (31%, 338)
    theory (34%, 816)
    history of soc (35%, 207)
    methodology (36%, 418)
    econ soc (36%, 836)
    political economy of world systems (36%, 385)
    religion (38%, 685)

    On the other side of the distribution:

    sex and gender (86%, n=1121)
    race, gender, and class (78%, 899)
    body and embodiment (78%, 295)
    family (75%, 800)
    children and youth (74%, 434)
    sexualities (70%, 441)
    disabilities & society (69%, 330)
    teaching & learning (68%, 747)
    aging & life course (65%, 604)
    medical soc (65%, 1019)

    Religion was about the only one of these I wouldn’t have predicted.



  13. Thanks, Kim! (I added an update with the complete graph.) Now all we need is the network diagram of membership ties, as well as race/ethnicity and career status. And cheek swabs.


  14. I agree with Kim that there is nothing in the gender distribution that is surprising. It would be interesting to break these numbers down by age in order to understand which of these patterns reflect cohort effects (perhaps world systems) versus others (I assume methodology) where this is not a cohort effect.

    The issue with the methods section is that it is too small, and if it is to grow, it needs to attract all types of young scholars. Moving toward a gender distribution that matches PhD pipeline would help recruitment. That would then help to expand the training corps of methodologists and those prone to pursuing scholarship that can make it into methods journals.

    A ‘menu’ type of analysis would also be helpful. To what extent are there lots of people out there who don’t want to join more then 2 or 3 sections, and who feel that methodology is less vital to their interests? Or less vital as a source of cultivating whatever scholarly identity they are trying to cultivate, and perhaps they see little payoff to cultivating methodologist? (By the way, that last point is crazy! People able to teach graduate-level methods are so rare these days that there is huge demand for them.) Or is it just that the the methodology section is lame and doesn’t do anything, which I think is largely true! However, I think this is endogenous, since there just isn’t enough young vitality within it, and also a we-are-dying malaise.

    Anyway, I’ve moved away from the substance of this thread, and so I’ll stop now ….


  15. I think the menu analysis could be an interesting one. We’re trained in graduate school to be specialists, but research (by Erin Leahey, who you mention earlier) suggests that women are less specialized than men. Do these interests influence section membership, number of memberships, and section participation? We have a number of prominent women in social psychology, yet they appear to be more focused in their section participation (coupling social psych with only emotions or theory) than some of my (less-prominent) peers, who are more likely to be members of a number of sections that map less well onto a “social psychology specialist” career even though they would classify themselves as social psychologists.


  16. This is all so fascinating and overwhelming all at once. I’m a new (but older) Sociology student (halfway through my BA). My interests seem aligned with that of many of female Sociologists: race, gender, and class. This post is prompting me to investigate other specializations.


  17. While I know that the term “gender” has increasingly been used to designate women versus men, I do wonder what happens to all of that when we use gender as a socio-cultural variable (ordinal or perhaps even interval) and test for masculinities and femininities? What happened to GLBT? If it is all just common sense men and women then why do so many people study gender? Male versus female is a nominal level variable that can be included in any correlation or regression. I remember when Jessie Bernard wrote about the new woman. What happened to all of the nuances?


  18. As someone who’s been studying gender for decades i totally agree with you. I cringe every time i sign on to a plane ticket as gender female. Female is my sex category, and it’s usually but not always a dichotomy (e.g. intersexuals). Gender, on the other hand, is a complex stratification system with implications for individual identities and selves, for interaction and expectations of others, and for institutional design. The simple replacement of “gender” for “sex category” is a misplaced sense of progress!
    barbara risman


  19. Dear Barbara Risman, I am so relieved that my comment was not misunderstood. I cringe every time I have to mark “male” under gender, too. My gender may be masculine, but that is not necessarily just because my biological sex happens to be male. It also has to do with socialization into masculine roles as a boy, etc. etc. I am currently reading a marvelous book by Ruth Stein (2010) –who died in 2010 — For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism (Stanford U.P.) which does a great job of speculating about the deeper roots of terrorist beliefs in a “vertical” God/Allah. Now I know this is not the place to begin a discussion of the roots of repressive masculinities, etc., but it is important when discussing how many editors of a sociology journal happen to be biological males to also consider how many of them have a simplistic approach to 19th century (and earlier) notions of masculinity and femininity (i.e. “gender” and gender roles). The same goes for biological women and degrees of masculinity-femininity. We cannot jump to conclusions about the nuances of trends in the discipline of sociology without using good sociology (and perhaps some psychoanalysis, etc.) to understand what is happening. For example, is it possible that a more feminine personality type (for a biological female or male) might dis-encourage participation in higher positions in a national organization but encourage participation in a regional association? I really do not know.


  20. Dear hansbakkeruelph and the other men in this discussion,

    I encourage you to join the sex & gender section of the ASA. Only if men who understand gender as a social structural stratification system, including but not limited to socially constructed selves, will we begin to dismantle the gender segregation of the discipline.

    Here’s a challenge to all the men out there who have been reading and participating in this discussion. don’t assume that to de-segregate sociology women should join sections beyond the ones we are currently in. It’s also up to men who study inequality that includes gender to join sections now dominated by women.

    I find this discussion about segregation inside our own house depressing, if not surprising. It seems to me we need to clean up our own house.

    barbara risman


  21. Dear Barbara Risman and all human beings in this discussion, regardless of sex or gender, gender identity, sex roles, etc. etc.

    Thank you very much for your invitation to join the sex & gender section of the ASA. I would love to do so. I am already a member of four sections, but one more is o.k., too! Gender is a socially constructed aspect of our “semiotic selves.” ( I recently wrote on Norb Wiley’s 1994 book The Semiotic Self.) The idea of a “social structural stratification system” may have to be analyzed a bit, but certainly Patrimonalism has been one of my interests for a long time. Max Weber’s ideal type of patrimonialism is discussed at length in his Economy & Society, but it seems to not have received much attention outside of political science, political sociology, Weber studies, etc. I feel that the book Love & Greatness may be a somewhat distorted discussion of what Weber was trying to do, but it is certainly worth discussing. I will be at the ASA in Las Vegas (although my paper on the concept of the Marginal Human Being will be at SSSI). J. I. Hans Bakker


Comments welcome (may be moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s