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The Myth of Female Under-Representation in STEM

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The Myth of Female Under-Representation in STEM


September 7, 2023

Higher education leaders often claim that women are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.  Like so much else in higher ed, this claim is false. A recent series of posts explains why.

Ever wondered why you hear ‘35% of stem graduates are women’, when HESAs own data show actually 54% of STEM graduates are women? Here’s the hidden secret of “STEM:”

‘STEM’ is a carefully crafted political term that removes the sciences in which women are over represented.

Biology (where women dominate) is not considered to be “STEM”… medicine… psychology… veterinary science… neuroscience… none of these are considered to be “STEM.”

Breakdowns by Sex of Several Science Fields that are Excluded from the STEM Definition

Field Female Share Reference (listed at end of article)
Nursing 82% (1)
Veterinary Medicine 81% (2)
Psychology 79.1% (3)
Biology 63.2% (3)
Medicine 53.8% (4)

Case Study: Veterinary Medicine

As seen in the table above, women account for 81% of veterinary students nationwide.  This female share is one of the highest sex disparities among professional programs.  In light of this discrepancy, you’d think veterinary medicine leaders would be starting outreach programs to encourage more male students.

Instead of correcting the imbalance, they’ve allowed it to become significantly worse.  Below are data from Iowa State’s veterinary medicine program.

Before 2017, the male share of the class ranged between 22% and 30%. Starting about eight years ago, however, the share of male students has been cut almost in half and held steady (with two exceptions) at 17%:

Male Student Enrollments at Iowa State Veterinary Medicine Program

Grad Class Male %
2026 17.6%
2025 18.2%
2024 17.8%
2023 17.5%
2022 13.4%
2021 17.4%
2020 22.6%
2019 17.5%
2018 20.0%
2017 24.0%
2016 24.2%
2015 25.5%
2014 28.8%
2013 31.5%
2012 26.4%
2011 24.0%
2010 22.5%
2009 23.3%

These numbers are even more inexplicable when you consider there is a substantial shortage of large animal vets nationwide.

Women Vets Shun Work on the Farm

Female veterinarians generally prefer small animal practices over large animal practices, which has contributed to shortages of large animal vets:

The growing ranks of female vets prefer a career looking after pets than pigs or cattle

Wanted: More large-animal veterinarians.

In conclusion, the claim that females are underrepresented in science fields is a myth.


(1)    “What Percentage of Student Nurses Are Female,” available at

(2)   “The Gender Divide — Truth be told, misogyny is a problem in veterinary medicine. Our increasingly female profession can take constructive steps to even the playing field,” available at (“According to data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, women comprise 81% of DVM students.”)

(3)   “Chart of the Day: Female Shares of Bachelor’s Degrees by Field, 1971 to 2019, available at (“In 2019, women [earned] more than 62% of the bachelor’s degrees in 9 out of the 16 academic fields: Health Professions (84.3% and the greatest gender imbalance for either sex for the 16 majors), Public Administration (82.7% and the field with the second-highest gender imbalance), Education (82.0% and the field with the third-highest female share and the greatest share ever), Psychology (79.1% and a record high female share), English (71.3% and a record female share), Foreign Languages (69.1%), Communication and Journalism (65.6%, a new record high), Biology (63.2%, a new record high)”).  (emphasis added)

(4)   “The nation’s medical schools grow more diverse,” available at (“Women again accounted for the majority of applicants (56.5%), matriculants (55.6%), and total enrollment (53.8%) — the fourth consecutive year that women made up the majority of all three groups.”)