CSWA Logo AAS Logo

Disparities in the Salaries and Appointments of Academic Women and Men

An Update of a 1988 Report of the American Association of University Professors Committee W on the Status of Women in the Academic Profession

By Ernst Benjamin

June 1999

This article is reprinted with permission from the January/February 1999 issue of Academe, the Journal of the American Association of University Professors. Ernst Benjamin, Ph.D., is Associate General Secretary at the AAUP offices in Washington DC. This report is available from the AAUP website at http://www.aaup.org/Wrepup.htm.


Substantial disparities in salary, rank, and tenure between male and female faculty persist despite the increasing proportion of women in the academic profession. In 1988 Academe published an excerpt from the annual report of Mary Gray, who was then chair of Committee W on the Status of Women in the Academic Profession, exploring this concern. Gray demonstrated that salary disparities between faculty men and women had increased substantially between 1975, when Committee Z on the Economic Status of the Profession began to collect gender-based data, and 1988. She noted also that, though women were gaining access to academic appointments, they were disproportionately relegated to nontenure- track positions. The following 1998 update of her report has been prepared at the request of Committee W.

Table 1 incorporates both Gray’s comparison of 1975 to 1988 and current (1998) data. Between 1975 and 1988, salary gender disparities increased in all but one of the twenty combinations of institution and rank. Happily, the salary disparities have declined in eighteen of the twenty categories between 1988 and 1998. Unhappily, the disparities not only remain substantial but are greater in 1998 than in 1975 for half the categories, including “all-institution” average salaries for full, associate, and assistant professors.

These gender disparities are due, in part, to the increasing relative participation of women in the profession. That is, since a greater proportion of women than men are new entrants, women have less average seniority in rank. But this fact does not adequately account for the increased disparities even within rank, particularly for assistant professors, for whom time in rank is generally limited, and associate professors, among whom women often have longer time in rank due to nonpromotion.

The increasing gender disparity in each of the “all-institution” professorial ranks and in most ranks at Category I and IIA institutions points to more fundamental problems. As female participation in the profession increases, women remain more likely than men to obtain appointments in lower-paying types of institutions and disciplines. Indeed, even controlling for category of institution, gender disparities continue and in some cases have increased, because women are more often found in those specific institutions (and disciplines) that pay lower salaries.

If controlling for rank, category of institution, and discipline accounts for a substantial proportion of the gender disparity, it also masks it. The largest salary disadvantages for academic women reflect precisely their relegation to less remunerative appointments. As Table 2 shows, although women have increased their proportion of appointments to professorial positions, disproportionate numbers of women continue to occupy positions as lecturers and instructors across all types of institutions. Among those women who do attain professorial positions, relatively few gain promotion to full professorship. The relatively greater proportion of women in associate professor positions, on the other hand, reflects in part the glass ceiling. Similarly, women are disproportionately more likely to hold positions in community colleges and less likely to attain positions in research universities. Such disparities by type of institution have diminished, but remain substantial.

Moreover, as Table 3 shows, the gender disparity in type of appointment has actually increased in significant respects. The increase in the female proportion of part-time faculty is greater than the increase in the female proportion of full-time positions. Similarly, although the proportion of tenured faculty who are women has grown from 18 to 26 percent, the proportion of female non-tenure-track faculty has grown even more, from 34 to 45 percent. The increasing entry of women into the profession has so far exceeded the improvement in the positions women attain that the proportion of all female faculty who are tenured has actually declined from 24 to 20 percent.

Perhaps the most significant improvement in the status of academic women is the increase (from 31 to 43 percent) in the proportion of women among those holding probationary tenure-track positions. This increase results, however, from a relatively small increase in the number of such women combined with a substantial decline in the number of men in these probationary positions and a decline in the number of such positions overall. A better, albeit more ominous, indicator of the future of women in the profession is manifest in the observation that the proportion of all female faculty who hold probationary tenure-track positions has actually declined by almost half, from 22 to 12 percent.

These data suggest that women and men are responding differently to a general decline in the quality of professional opportunities in academe. The continuing expansion in the number of faculty is attributable almost entirely to increasing female participation. Male entry is barely sufficient to sustain current participation rates, and the number of males in probationary tenuretrack positions has declined precipitously. Simply stated, fewer men are finding their professional futures in academe, whereas female participation continues to increase despite the declining terms and conditions of faculty employment.

This might suggest that gender disparities in academe are largely the residual effects of a disparity in opportunities between the current and previous generations. New faculty, male or female, compete for a smaller proportion of fulltime, tenure-track positions at the most attractive institutions than did faculty in the previous generation. Although this difference between generations certainly exists, it does not adequately explain why women are more likely than men to accept reduced terms and conditions of employment.

Some argue that women prefer part-time employment, but the evidence does not support that proposition. On the contrary, almost two thirds of women teaching liberal arts courses part-time who responded to the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty reported that they taught part-time because full-time positions were not available. The survey would, however, support the argument that a lesser proportion of women than men have the advanced degrees necessary for more advanced appointments. Part-time and community college faculty are both disproportionately more likely to be women and less likely to have advanced degrees. But, of course, several factors combine to create a seeming “Ph.D. glut” that discourages many faculty from the pursuit of full professional qualifications. These factors include the shortage of four-year, tenure-track positions resulting from the increased use of non-tenure-track, part-time, and graduate-assistant positions in the four-year universities. They also include the tendency of community colleges to hire faculty without advanced degrees, even when candidates with advanced degrees are available.

Any comprehensive explanation of why women are more likely than men to accept less attractive professional opportunities must in the end recognize the social practices that differentiate the market situation of women and men. Women are often less mobile and have fewer professional alternatives outside the academy. They are also far more often constrained by child-rearing responsibilities than men and more likely
to bear the burden imposed by the lack of adequate and affordable child care. As long as society imposes
these relative disadvantages on women, universities can successfully offer women terms of employment
that would not be acceptable to similar numbers of similarly qualified men. However, as alternative
opportunities for women increase, either the terms of employment must improve or the quality of recruits, male and female, will decline. Accordingly, even to the extent that disparities between male and female appointments are attributable to an overall decline in the terms of academic employment over the previous twenty-five years, continuation of this decline does not augur well for women, men, or the profession.

Back to June 1999 Contents

Back to STATUS Table of Contents