Chart of the Month: Who is driving the rise in political science degree completions? Women.

Over the last decade, the gap in all undergraduate degrees completed by women over men has continued to grow modestly.  Since 2015, the gap in all undergraduate degrees completed in political science by men over women began to shrink modestly. Starting in 2016, this gender gap in political science degree completions has seen arapid, significant decline in each academic year, creating the most equitable discipline for gender among undergraduate degree -earners, to our knowledge, in history.

In the past decade, according to data from the public NCES IPEDS database, all undergraduate degree completions saw year-to-year growth, albeit modest growth. In each year, except for 2018, more degrees were completed than in the last. In addition, more women completed these bachelor’s degrees than men, and, for the most part, degree completions by women grew slightly faster than degree completions by men grew.  As the number of undergraduate degree completions for all undergraduates has grown, women accounted for 34% more of these degree completions cumulatively. Women continue to earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, overall. This differential also grew modestly in each year in the past decade, as did the number of women degree-earners.

In contrast, political science saw a different trend. From 2012 to 2016, the number of political science degrees earned contracted, a distinct trend from the sustained growth noted above. 2017 saw the first positive growth in political science degrees completed since 2011 – growth propelled by an increasing number of degree-earning women political scientists. In political science degree completions, however, we did not observe the overall trend of women receiving more degrees at a modest increasing rate, either. In recent years in political science, the difference in completions by men to those by women has begun to drop significantly. Since 2009, women earned just 16% fewer of these degrees than men.

Yet for every political science degree completed in the past decade, 100 degrees in other disciplines were finished, and because political science degrees make up a small fraction of all undergraduate degrees, they have very little influence on trends in degree completions at large. While this divergent trend has little effect on the overall trends observed among all undergraduates, it is noteworthy for political science to run counter to trends in undergraduate degrees overall.

*All data observed are from the public NCES IPEDS database. Note that 2018 data is provisional release and may be subject to change.