Women in science: does Europe fare as poorly as the UK?

26 June 2012


Yesterday Full Fact took a look at the extent to which women were under-represented in the sciences, after an EU advertising campaign that insisted that science was "a girl thing" caused a stir on social media networks.

We found that for the UK, science became increasingly dominated by men the further up the career ladder you went. But is the UK representative of the EU as a whole?

The full swathe of data produced on women's engagement with science in the UK - which tracks the proportion of women involved in science from GCSE to professorship level - isn't available for the whole of Europe. However those figures which are available tell of a similar story on the continent.

According to data compiled by Eurostat, the European Union's statistical arm, by the time we get to undergraduate level men already outnumber women on science, engineering and technology courses, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the university students.

As we saw in the UK, women's share of the science positions only gets worse from here on in, with 61 per cent of university research posts on the continent going to men and 81 per cent of research and development jobs in the private sector doing likewise.

While a direct comparison between these figures and those we looked at yesterday might suggest that women across the channel fare a little better than those at home, we need to be a little cautious about drawing too many conclusions on the strength of this.

The UKRC data we used to look in-depth at the UK yesterday has slightly different criteria for defining science posts than Eurostat does.

When we look at the UK's rating within the Eurostat tables a mixed picture emerges. At undergraduate level the UK does find itself below the EU average for attracting female students as the table below shows, however in terms of research posts the UK finds itself outperforming the EU average in 2 out of the 3 areas measured.

By any measure, women do seem to be under-represented in science across the EU, especially when it comes to the more senior roles. As we noted yesterday, this may in part be the result of a 'hangover' effect from previous years, when the gender imbalance favoured men to an even greater degree.

So while the problem itself doesn't seem to be in dispute, there has been a great deal of scepticism in some quarters over whether or not the EU's latest campaign is the right way to tackle it.

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