More women with doctoral degrees

Figures released by the Federal Statistical Office suggest that the number of women in Germany holding a doctoral degree is on the increase. However, women continue to be underrepresented in research and development.

The survey on the careers of highly qualified people – those having graduated from a higher education institution with or without a doctoral degree – was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, or BMBF.

The share of the overall population holding degrees has seen a significant increase, from 10.5% in 2001 to 13.2 % in 2011.

In this period, more and more women opted for doctoral degrees. Among those under 45 years old, at 41% the share of women holding a doctoral degree in 2011 was almost twice as high as it was among those who were 55 years old or older (22%).

Around 752,000 people held a doctoral degree in 2011, and the share of women – regardless of age – was 31%. The survey also shows that slightly more than half of all holders of doctoral degrees in 2011 had a non-academic family background.

Women are increasingly strongly represented in what used to be traditional male domains: mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and engineering subjects.

In these traditionally male fields, while women’s share of doctorates in 2011 across all age groups was at 22%, it was already 27% among the women under 45 years old. And in the youngest age group in natural sciences and mathematics, the share of women with a doctoral degree was found to be almost twice as high as in the oldest group.

Federal Education Minister Johanna Wanka welcomed these developments, commenting that the figures “demonstrate that we are succeeding in encouraging more and more women to make full use of their potential”.

However, women doctoral degree holders continue to be strongly underrepresented in research and development. In 2011, a mere quarter of the 93,000 doctoral degree holders under the age of 65 were women.

“We can no longer afford to do without women’s creativeness and innovative potential to such an extent,” Wanka warned. “This is not just about equal opportunities – the performance of our research and industry is at stake as well.”

The BMBF launched a programme to promote women’s careers as professors in 2007. Since then, 260 women professors have been newly appointed.

Also, higher education institutions have been requested to present equal opportunities concepts that are aimed at improving prospects for women at all qualification levels in higher education and research.

Research organisations outside universities have set targets to recruit more women and make the results of their measures transparent, too.