Title IX: Women are catching up, but . . .

The 1972 law known as Title IX bans sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal funds. The act is renowned for increasing girls’ participation in sports, but less recognized has been Title IX’s role in fostering women’s participation in science at schools at all levels, according to a report issued July 22 by Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In the 31 years since Title IX went into effect, the percentage of U.S. scientists who are women went from about 3 percent to 20 percent. However, after conducting a host of interviews at research-funding agencies, universities, national laboratories, and analytical centers, GAO also reports that “female faculty members still lag behind their male counterparts in terms of salary and rank, and that much of their gain in numbers has been in the life sciences, as opposed to mathematics and engineering.”

Various factors explain the salary differential, the report says. For instance, women teach more than their male counterparts do, an activity that doesn’t typically bring outside funding to a university. Women are also less likely to lead research and bring prestige to an individual and her university. Moreover, many women face a conflict between career responsibilities and raising a family, GAO finds. Finally, the congressional agency reports that “discrimination may still affect women’s choices and professional progress.”

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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