U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Educational Degrees and Health Profession Schools

The number of post-secondary educational degrees awarded to women rose from just over half a million in the 1969–1970 academic year to more than 1.7 million in 2005–2006. Although the number of degrees earned by men has also increased, the rate of growth among women has been much faster; therefore, the proportion of degrees earned by women has risen dramatically. In 1969–1970, men earned a majority of every type of post-secondary degree, while in 2005–2006, women earned more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and nearly half of all first professional and doctoral degrees. The most significant increase has been in the proportion of first professional degree earners who are women, which jumped from 5.3 percent in 1969–1970 to 49.8 percent in 2005–2006. The total number of women earning their first professional degree in 2005–2006 (43,617) was 24 times greater than in 1969–1970 (1,841).

While the sex disparity in degrees awarded has decreased, a racial/ethnic disparity remains among women enrolled in schools for health professions. During the 2007–2008 academic year, non-Hispanic White women accounted for more than half of all women enrolled in schools of medicine, optometry, pharmacy, and public health, while fewer than 10 percent of women enrolled in these schools were Hispanic. Non-Hispanic Black women were also underrepresented among female students enrolled in schools of medicine, pharmacy, and optometry (9.0, 7.0, and 3.6 percent, respectively). In comparison, non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander women were overrepresented relative to their representation within the population, accounting for 30.3 percent of female students of optometry, 20.3 percent of female students of medicine, and 21.3 percent of female pharmacy students.

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