Is Engineering Hostile to Women? An Analysis of Data from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates

by Laurie A. Morgan
Is Engineering Hostile to Women? An Analysis of Data from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates
Laurie A. Morgan
American Sociological Review
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Reply to Alessio and Andrzejewski




Universio of Michigan

LESS10 and Andrzejewski (2000, henceforward A&A) claim to have shown that the conclusions in my article (Morgan 1998, henceforward Morgan) are in error-to have "unveiled the hidden glass ceiling." However, they offer no empirical findings to support their claim, nor is their claim supported by the literature they cite. They rely heavily on an essay that is prima- rily anecdotal (Guran 1997), and the find- ings from many of the research studies they cite are simply misstated.' Without review- ing all of these details, I address the two cen- tral issues they raise about selection bias and the top coding of pay data. Both of these are empirical questions; neither can be produc- tively addressed through speculation. Here I present additional findings about women's exit rates from engineering compared with men's, and women kngineeis9 exitrates from full-time employment compared with women in other professions. I also discuss the use of top-coded data from the National Science Foundation's National Survey of Natural and Social Scientists and Engineers, 1982-1989 SSE (U.S. Department of Com- merce 1990) (SSE).

I start by briefly reviewing my original study.

Direct all correspondence to Laurie A. Mor- gan, Institute for Social Research, 426 Thomp- son Street, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (morganla@umich. edu). I am grateful to Karin A. Martin and Trond Petersen for help- ful comments and suggestions.

Misstated findings include those from En- gland and Browne (1992), Osterman (1982), Robinson and McIlwee (1991), Stewart (1980), Stroh, Brett, and Reilly (1997), Tang (19971, and Yogev and Vierra (1983). An appendix detailing these errors as well as other misrepresentations is available upon request.


My 1998 study is a longitudinal, multicohort study of the gender earnings gap for engi- neers based on data from the SSE and the 1992 Survey of Women and Men Engineers (Society of Women Engineers 1993) (SWE). I ask if what appears to be a "glass ceiling" for women professionals-a gender pay gap that increases with years of experience-in multicohort cross-sectional studies and in longitudinal studies of single cohorts, results instead from a cohort effect, where younger cohorts fare better than older ones across their entire careers. I found that female pay penalties were consistently flat for all three cohorts across the 1982-1989 period, and quite small for the younger cohorts (post- 1971 graduates), but much larger for the older one (pre-1972 graduates).2,3 I concluded that this result was consistent with a cohort effect on gender pay differentials rather than a glass-ceiling effect. I noted that we cannot learn from these data what the earlier processes were for the older cohort (i.e., did they start on equal footing with their male counterparts and then lose ground, or were they behind from the begin- ning?), or what has happened since 1989 for any of the cohorts. But I suggested that the finding is surprising and is cause for opti- mism about women's progress in engineer- ing, conventionally thought to be a profes- sion hostile to women. I ~ointedout the need for multicohort, longitudinal studies on women's progress in the professions.

I also pointed out twice (in notes 11 and 18) a potential caveat-that this study could not account for the effects of any selection

'Controls are included for human capital (in- cluding years of professional experience), family status, work setting (engineering specialty, orga- nization type, and industry), racelethnicity, and region. Contrary to A&A's claim, no control for job or rank was included, because that would beg the question of interest (Morgan 1998:484). A&A1s claim that, by including control for expe- rience, the glass ceiling is "artificially elimi- nated" is incorrect.

Analysis of the 1992 SWE data (cross-sec- tional) by cohort showed small gender pay dif- ferentials for all cohorts, especially the youngest ones.

bias resulting from exits over time. If wo- men exit for reasons of pay discrimination, my findings are biased. On the other hand, I also suggested that understanding the rela- tionship between exits and pay for women professionals may be more complicated than for women generally; professionals' exits may be associated with being highly paid as well as with being poorly paid. Women pro- fessionals may have the resources to exit, and given this, those who are mothers may choose to interrupt full-time careers as a re- sult of an unequal gender division of labor in the home (or because they simply want to spend time with their children and they do not need an income).

Regarding the role of selection bias in Mor- gan, which studies only engineers who are employed full time, A&A assert that the dif- ferential loss of women in the SSE data oc- curred because women are discriminated against in engineering, and thus that the "true" glass ceiling is obscured. The reasons for the loss of women in my study are far from clear. Why women were lost at higher rates than men is an empirical question to be tested. Although I cannot answer it with data from my original analysis, we can learn something about it using data from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates (NSF 1993). The sampling frame for the 1993 NSCG is all college graduates holding a bachelor or higher degree identified in the 1990 census, which actually makes these data more useful for addressing questions about exits than the SSE (which sampled only individuals working in science and en- gineering as of the 1980 census and thus missed those who were educated as engi- neers but left the profession prior to 1980). The NSCG data are also especially useful because they allow us to make comparisons across professions: The NSCG includes de- grees in all areas; the SSE surveyed only people in the natural and social sciences and engineering.

Setting aside the possibility that at least some portion of the differential loss of women results from higher rates of non-response (Tang 1997) I consider three forms of exit: exit from engineering to other occu-


pations through retraining (earning another degree in a different area), exit from engi- neering to other occupations, and exit from the full-time labor force to either part-time employment or from the paid labor force al- together. For bachelor-level engineering graduates (1965-1989), Table 1 reports ad- ditional degrees earned, occupations, and employment statuses in 1993. The first panel gives the percentages of men and women ac- quiring additional degrees in engineering and other fields. For individuals whose high- est degrees are in engineering, the second panel gives the percentages working in en- gineering versus other occupations among those working full time in 1993, and the third panel gives the distribution of engi- neering graduates on employment status. For those working part time or who are not in the labor force in 1993, the third panel also reports the extent to which this is for family reasons.

There are very small differences (4 percent) between women and men engineering graduates in whether they acquire a higher degree in engineering, and very small differ- ences (3 percent) among those working full time in 1993 in whether they are working in engineering or have exited to nonengineer- ing occupations. But there are more substan- tial differences between men and women in whether they work full time (16 percent) versus part time (7 percent) or are out of the labor force (9 percent). Women are much more likely than men not to work full time, and among those who do not more than half say it is because of family.

There are many reasons why individuals exit a field or full-time employment, includ- ing a hostile environment, access to other resources, good opportunities for working part time, and better opportunities else- where-either for other jobs or to be home with or without children. A&A suggest that the diiferential loss of women engineers from the data in my study is due to a hostile environment for women in engineering. We cannot ask how these women feel, but we can observe whether they exit engineering at higher or lower rates than they exit other professions. If engineering is especially hos- tile to women, we should observe higher exit rates for women engineers than for women in other professions. Table 2 addresses this

Table 1. Three Types of Exits from Engineering for Graduates Who Received Bachelor Degrees in Engineering between 1965 and 1989: National Survey of College Graduates, 1993

Difference Percentage Percentage (Percentage of Women Exit Tyue/Destination of Women of Men -Percentage of Men)

Further Education

No higher degree 69 65

Higher degree in engineering 18 22

Higher degree in computer, natural or 4 3
physical science

Higher degree in social science or other field 9 9

Total percent

Number of cases

Field of Employment of Graduates Whose Highest Degrees Are in Engineering and Who Work Full Time

Engineering occupation 65 68 -3

Nonengineering occupation 35 32 3

Total percent

Number of cases

Employment Status of Graduates Whose Highest Degrees Are in Engineering

Working full time 77 93 -16

Working part time 9 2 7

Not in labor force 11 2 9

Unemployed 3 3

Total percent

Number of cases

Working part time for family reasons 5

Not in the labor force for family reasons 8

Note: Percentage totals may not sum to 100 percent because of rounding.

question. It shows unambiguously that the percentage of women working full time is as high among engineers as in other male- dominated professions, and is considerably higher than in the female-dominated profes- sions of nursing and teaching.

So, according to A&A's premise, as ob- served here through labor force attachment, engineering comparatively, is not at all hos- tile to women, whereas nursing and teaching appear to be. Women engineers work full time at the same rate as women in many other professions, and at a higher rate than women in traditionally-female professions (Table 2). Among those working full time, women work in engineering occupations at more or less the same rate as men do (Table 1, second panel), although both men and women whose highest degrees are in engi- neering work in occupations other than en- gineering at high rates. The difference be- tween women and men is that women are much less likely than men to work full time, and this is primarily because of family re- sponsibilities (Table 1, third panel). I conclude that there is little evidence that women leave engineering because of discrimination, and that the differential loss of women from the data in Morgan. which focuses on engi- neers working full time, is probably due to exits from full-time employment.

A&A argue that top coding obscures the true glass ceiling. I do not understand why they

Table 2. Employment Status of Women Who Received Their Highest Degrees between 1965 and 1989: National Survey of College Graduates, 1993

Percentage with Highest Professional Degree in:" Business
Employment Variable     Accounting     stration     Engineering         Law     Medicine     Nursing     Teaching
Employment Status                         
Working full time     75     77     77     74     77     63     69
Working part time     10     10     9     13     16     24     12
Not in the labor force     12     9     11     10     5     12     17
Unemployed     3     4     3     3     1     1     2
Total percent     100     100     100     100     99     100     100
Number of cases     1.489     565     1,426     68 1     1,060     1,985     10,682
Employed Part Time for Family ReasonsC                     
Percent of total     6     6     5     8     10     14     5
Percent of women     6 1     56     57     62     6 1     5 8     43
employed part time                         
Not in the Labor Force for Family Reasons                     
Percent of total     9     6     9     7     3     7     6
Percent of women not in     69     60     78     77     59     5 6     3 8
the labor force                         

Note: Percentage totals may not sum to 100 percent because of rounding. "omen are classified into professions based on the field in which their highest degree was awarded (and in the cases of law, medicine, and business administration, the level of that degree). Highest degree category codes from the NSCG (1993) are: accounting-616510; Business administration (M.B.A.)-616530 and highest degree = masters; engineering-517210-577410; law (e.g., J.D.)-698100 and highest degree = professional; medicine (e.g., M.D.)-627860 and highest degree = professional; nursing-627870; teaching637020-637130. The number of engineers here is slightly higher than in Table 1 because Table 1 is restricted to individu- als whose bachelor degrees are in engineering. Table 2 includes everyone whose highest degree is in engi- neering (whether or not their bachelor degree is) in order to be consistent with the classification for the other professions, since several (business administration, law, and medicine) are defined by graduate, not bachelor degrees. Percentages are based on the number of women working part time (or not in the labor force) who marked "family responsibilities" in answer to the question "What were your reasons for working part time [not working] rather than full time?"

raise this issue. I used two data sets in my ings is what goes on for the younger two co- 1998 study-the SSE and SWE. Pay data in horts. Generally (in each of the four survey the SSE are top coded (and I presented tobit years), the rates of top coding are somewhat estimates); in the SWE however, they are lower for women than for men in the young- not. The SWE analyses show results consis- er cohorts, but not substantially so; rates for tent with those for the SSE. Further, there both groups in the younger cohorts are very are other reasons that SSE top coding does low. Third, if top coding did obscure a pay not pose a threat to the validity of my origi- differential, then we would have expected nal finding. First, comparing absolute num- the female pay penalty in 1989 to increase, bers of top-coded men and women, as A&A when the top code increases by 33 percent do, is inappropriate, because there are many from $75,000 to $99,900. That does not hap- more men than women in the study. Second, pen; in fact, the female pay penalty increases looking at these numbers in the aggregate is only slightly for the youngest cohort (from a inappropriate because the basis for my find- slight earnings bonus in 1986 to a 1.3 per-

cent penalty in 1989), and declines for the 1972-1976 cohort (to an earnings bonus) and for the pre-1972 cohort (from about 11 percent to 9.9 percent).

Understanding women's progress in the pro- fessions is an important step in understand- ing their access to workplace equality more broadly, and this means discovering the ar- eas where women are making progress as well as those where they are not.4 Findings of progress in one area or another do not mean our task is complete-rather they di- rect our future study. Results presented here, as in much of the current literature, suggest that how family and children (the gender di- vision of labor in the private sphere) affect women's career decisions are a key part of the puzzle. Especially interesting will be how alternative work arrangements (like part- time work) shape and are shaped by these private-sphere processes. Other areas suggested for further study include: (1) varia- tions in participation patterns across cohorts and professions (especially across heterono- mous versus autonomous professions); (2) processes of exit from engineering to other occupations (e.g., how engineering acts as a "springboard" to other professions) and how these processes compare across professions; and of course, (3) whether or not the patterns found in Morgan for engineers during the 1980's will continue, and whether they hold in other professions as well.

I shall end with an anecdote, the kind of evidence A&A seem to favor, neither more nor less decisive than their use of such. But since I actually am an engineer, and had a 10-year career in engineering (in the oil business), I feel especially entitled to do this. When I initially saw the results eventually published in Morgan, with a small pay gap between men and women that did not in- crease over the life cycle, I was surprised.

Findings of women's progress in the work- force are not new. See for example, Blau and Beller (1988), O'Neill (1985), O'Neill and Polacheck (1993), and Wellington (1993). In ad- dition, Petersen and Meyerson (forthcoming) find a cohort effect in Sweden over the period 1970- 1990 across a broad range of white-collar occu- pations.

However, they matched my own experience. When I graduated in 1978 with a BS in chemical engineering, I accepted 11 job in- terviews and received 11 job offers. I compared notes with my classmates and learned that several of my job offers were better than the ones received by men in my class. I asked some of the employers issuing the bet- ter offers to explain. They said: "We are very serious about recruiting women engineers; there are very few of you; all companies compete for the same limited pool; so in or- der to increase our chances of success in hir- ing women we offer higher salaries for women graduates than the going market rate for men." While I did not accept one of those higher offers, I certainly did not feel engi- neering was a hostile environment to women, and judging from the results in my study, neither did many other women engi- neers of my generation.

Laurie A. Morgan is a researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michi- gan. She holds a Ph. D. in Organizational Behav- ior and Industrial Relations, an M.B.A., and a

B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Before undertak- ing her doctoral studies at the University of Cali- fornia at Berkeley, she worked for ten years as an engineer in the oil and gas industly.

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