Thursday, December 21, 2017

Philosophy Undergraduate Majors Aren't Very Black, but Neither Are They As White As You Might Have Thought

Okay, I have some more data from the NCES database on Bachelor's degrees awarded in the U.S. A couple of weeks ago I noted that women have been earning 30-34% of philosophy BAs since the 1980s. Last week I noted the sharp decline in Philosophy, History, and English majors since 2010.

Race and ethnicity data are a bit more complicated, since the coding categories change over time. Currently, NCES uses "American Indian or Alaska Native", "Asian", "Black or African American", "Hispanic or Latino", "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander", "White", "Two or more races", "Race/ethnicity unknown", and "Nonresident alien". The last three of these categories are difficult to interpret, especially given changes over time; and "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" was included with Asian before 2010; so I will focus my analysis on the racial/ethnic categories Asian, Black, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, and White. [For more details, see this note.]

Based on results from my analysis last year on PhDs in Philosophy, I had expected Philosophy majors to be overwhelmingly White. To my surprise, that's not what I found. Although recipients of Bachelor's degrees in Philosophy are somewhat more White than recipients of Bachelor's degrees overall, the difference is not large: 63% of BA recipients in Philosophy identified as White, compared to 60% of all graduating majors in the 2015-2016 academic year.

In the NCES data, both Latino/Hispanic students and Asian students are approximately proportionately represented among Philosophy majors: 13% and 7% respectively, compared to 12% and 7% of graduating students overall. Of course Latino students are underrepresented among college graduates generally, compared to their prevalence in the U.S. as a whole (about 18% of the U.S. population overall). However, they don't appear to be more underrepresented among Philosophy majors than they are among Bachelor's degree recipients in general.

Similarly -- though the numbers are very small -- Native Americans are about 0.4% of Philosophy degree recipients and about 0.5% of graduating students overall (and 1.3% in the general population).

In contrast, Black students are substantially underrepresented: 5% in Philosophy compared to 10% overall (and 13% in the general population).

Interestingly, these trends also appear to hold over time, back to the beginning of available data in the 1994-1995 academic year. White students are overrepresented in Philosophy by a few percentage points, Black students underrepresented by about as many percentage points, and the other groups are about proportionately represented. These trends persist throughout the broad decline in percentage of White students among Bachelor's recipients overall.

Here's the graph for White students [update: corrected figure]:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

And here's Latino/Hispanic and Asian [update: corrected figure]:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

Native American is noisier due to small numbers, but roughly matches over the period:

The most striking disparity is among students identifying as Black [update: corrected figure]:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

Looking at intersection with gender, 42% of Black Philosophy BA recipients in the most recent two years of data were women. (For comparison, 33% of Philosophy BAs overall were women, 57% of Bachelor's degree recipients overall were women, and 64% of Black Bachelor's recipients were women.)

Evidently, the disproportionate Whiteness of Philosophy PhD recipients in the U.S. (recently in the mid-80%s, excluding nonresident alien and unknown) is not mostly explained by a similarly large disproportion among B.A. recipients, though the underrepresentation of Black students in the discipline does start at the undergraduate level.

I'd be interested to hear what others make of these patterns.


Note 1: I looked at all U.S. institutions in the IPEDS database, and I included both first and second majors in Philosophy. Before the 2000-2001 academic year, only first major is recorded. I used the major classification 38.01 specifically for Philosophy, excluding 38.00, 38.02, and 38.99. Only people who completed the degree are included in the data. Before the 2007-2008 academic year, the White and Black categories specify "non-Hispanic", and before 2010-2011, Pacific Islander is included with Asian. In the 2007-2008, "two or more races" is introduced as an option.


howard b said...

So, how would Durkhiem, he the famous author of a study of suicide, read such data?
That social pressures almost fate a fixed number of suicides from different groups. So individualism leads to higher egoistic suicides. Would individualism cause also philosophy majors?
I think we can hop outside of jobs as a master idea even if it is one key- different ethnicities can be read this way.
Does my suggestion sound plausible no matter how vague?
I mean Jewish doctors in the middle of the last century were in part a good dependable career move, but there were the purely social pressures of "my son the doctor" type

Nick Alonso said...

These results are surprising, and hard to explain.

I’d be interested to see data on the, say, top ten or fifteen most popular majors within each of these groups since ‘94, and how each group’s data compares. I suspect we may see some similarities among those groups underrepresented in philosophy, like female and black students. And possibly some similarities among those groups not underrepresented (though I I’m not as certain about this). From the bit I’ve read, people are starting to make some headway explaining the causes of female underrepresentation in philosophy. Maybe if we see similar major choices among black and female students we can infer similar causes.

Anonymous said...

I am an International student (India) with a BA in philosophy; and think that part of the reason coloured students are discouraged from pursuing graduate study in Philosophy is that the departments (professors and students) are overwhelmingly white which creates a serious barrier to the level of confidence one has in one's own ability to succeed. Personally, I was committed to applying to graduate school in philosophy, but was so scared of failure that I had significant trouble producing an undergraduate thesis (I read the same text over 15 times, and still doubted every thought i had about it), much less graduate applications. My advisor ended up really liking my thesis, but the fear and stress of it all had a significant impact on my other coursework (not philosophy) in my senior year, and my GPA dropped a significant .2 points, just from the last year. Of course, given everything else, this was the last straw in ensuring I didnt end up applying to graduate school, because I thought myself incompetent. I would think other people of colour with BAs in philosophy have similar issues, where they see themmselves as outsiders, and this in turn, has significant real impacts on their ability to actually make the cut.