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 slightly more than half a million in the 1969–1970 academic year to nearly 1.8 million in 2006–2007. 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 2006–2007, women earned more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and half of all first professional 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 50.0 percent in 2006–2007. The total number of women earning their first professional degree in 2006–2007 (45,032) was 24 times greater than in 1969–1970 (1,841).

While the sex disparity in degrees awarded has disappeared or reversed, a racial and ethnic disparity remains among women enrolled in schools for health professions. Non-Hispanic White women accounted for more than half of all women enrolled in schools of allopathic and osteopathic medicine, dentistry, 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 these schools. In comparison, non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander women were overrepresented relative to their representation within the population, accounting for 30.9 percent of female students of optometry, 28.4 percent of female students of dentistry, and 22.9 percent of female pharmacy students.

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