Even as women have come to dominate psychology in terms of numbers within the educational pipeline, workforce and APA, they continue to lack equity with their male colleagues when it comes to money, power and status, according to a new report from APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP).
“The Changing Gender Composition of Psychology: Update and Expansion of the 1995 Task Force Report” reviews the data and offers recommendations in such areas as education and training, employment and professional activities.
What’s most surprising about the findings is how little has changed in the more than two decades since the first report, says lead author Ruth Fassinger, PhD.
While female psychologists have made gains in some areas, they have seen increasing disparities in other areas, such as salaries (see chart), which the report suggests could be partly due to the influx of young women joining the workforce for the first time.
“Women [in psychology] are still experiencing inequity,” says Fassinger, a professor emerita at the University of Maryland’s College of Education. “You see it everywhere: in training, in the jobs that women have and the patterns of workforce participation, and in APA itself.”
Drawing on data from APA’s Center for Workforce Studies (CWS) and a literature review and analysis Fassinger conducted as a visiting scholar at APA, the report notes the dramatic growth of women’s representation within psychology that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Take psychology education. Of the 70,311 students enrolled in psychology graduate programs in 2014, according to CWS data, 75 percent were women. And up to 80 percent of students in training programs focused on health service provision are women. But by the time they finish their training, the report notes, female doctoral students are already at a disadvantage, with significantly higher debt levels than their male peers, according to a CWS analysis of pooled data from 1997 to 2009.
As women psychologists enter the workforce, they encounter lower salaries than men regardless of subfield. The average wage gap in starting salaries for recent doctoral grads is almost $20,000, the report points out, citing National Science Foundation (NSF) data from 2010.
One bright spot is jobs at government agencies, where women psychologists predominate and the wage gap is much smaller than in other settings. According to the NSF data, women with psychology PhDs who were working in government in 2010 made almost 92 percent of what their male counterparts made. But even that sector has seen a drop in equity along with other sectors; in 1993, women’s government salaries were 94 percent of men’s.
“The fact that women are accruing greater debt yet are being paid less is alarming,” says Alette Coble-Temple, PsyD, chair of APA’s CWP and a professor of clinical psychology at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California. Women who are ethnic and racial minorities and women with disabilities can face even greater disparities, she adds. Minority students finish their doctoral training with significantly more debt than white students, for example. The difference is especially pronounced among PsyD students, the report notes, citing data from 1997 to 2009 that show an average $95,000 debt for minority PsyD recipients versus $84,000 for white PsyD recipients.
Women in academia face particular challenges, the report emphasizes. It typically takes women a year longer to achieve tenure than men, for example. And even though women are flooding into the discipline, they are still underrepresented as associate professors, full professors and institutional leaders.
According to CWS data, 46 percent of all male psychology faculty in the academic year 2013–14 were full professors compared with 28 percent of female faculty, for instance. Just 16 percent of male academics were assistant professors compared with almost 28 percent of female academics. Women were also overrepresented among adjunct, nontenure-track lecturer and other temporary positions, with almost 17 percent of female faculty in these roles compared with 11 percent of male faculty. These patterns have held steady over the last two decades despite the influx of women into psychology departments.
The inequities play out within APA itself. Women now make up 58 percent of APA’s membership and hold more than half of governance positions. Yet women are underrepresented when it comes to the association’s top honors, participation in divisions and editorial roles. While 40 percent of those involved in the review process of APA journals are women, for instance, most are ad hoc reviewers. Just 18 percent of editors of APA journals are women.
The report acknowledges that women’s choices account for some of the disparities. Women are more likely to seek PsyDs, for instance, and graduates of these programs accumulate almost twice as much debt as those of PhD programs. In addition, women practitioners are more likely to work part time, limiting their income. But, says Fassinger, these choices must be viewed within a sociocultural context that constrains women’s options. “It’s almost impossible to talk about things as free choice when you have all this socialization that propels people into certain directions,” she says, noting that women may choose part-time work because of child-rearing obligations.
To address the disparity, the Committee on Women in Psychology recommends in the report that APA work to raise awareness and advocate for equity, pushing policies that encourage salary transparency and monitoring progress.
The report also calls for researching students’ decision-making processes and interventions that could influence their decisions, such as making students at all levels aware of the wide range of meaningful careers beyond health service provision so that they can take advantage of other employment sectors where there are opportunities. Other recommendations include continuing to advocate for federal funding for trainees and early career psychologists, creating a task force to identify barriers to advancement within academia, and facilitating more mentorship for women.
The report should spur research exploring the factors that make psychology careers less attractive to men, says Paola Michelle Contreras, PsyD, of APA’s CWP and an assistant professor of counseling at William James College in Newton, Massachusetts. “This is a good take-off point to get more data and learn more about the nuances,” she says.