Thursday, December 20, 2018

Philosophy as a Second Major: Data by Race and Gender

Last year, I observed that Philosophy relies on double majors more than most other academic disciplines do. Drawing on IPEDS data from the National Center for Education Statistics, for Bachelor's degrees completed in 2016, I found that although only 0.30% of students choose Philosophy as a first major, among those who completed a second major, 1.7% choose Philosophy. I also found that 20% of graduating Philosophy majors had Philosophy as their second major. If we conjecture that double majors with Philosophy as one of their majors are just as likely to list Philosophy first as second (which might not be true, but can't be assessed from the IPEDS data), then 40% of Philosophy majors are double-majoring with something else. [See here for methodological details and more data.]

This year, I thought it would be interesting to break down the results by race and gender. My thought was that maybe women or members of historically underrepresented racial groups might be proportionately more likely than White men to take Philosophy as a second major. White men are disproportionately represented in Philosophy, for whatever (much disputed!) reason. Perhaps women and members of underrepresented racial groups would be more likely to take Philosophy as a second major if they could also major in something else?

To reduce hindsight bias, I encourage you to pause now and reflect on what your guess would be.

Drum roll please....

Results by Gender

NCES uses the gender categories "men" and "women". I examined all U.S. data from the 2009-2010 academic year through the 2016-2017 academic year.

Combining all majors and all years, women were about as likely as men to complete a second major: 5.4% of women did so, compared to 5.1% of men (441,066/8,214,707 vs. 318,372/6,167,753 [p < .001 of course, given the huge numbers]). (All statistical tests in this post are two-tailed two-proportion z tests.) Viewing the data another way, women constituted 57% of all graduates and 58% of all graduates who completed two majors.

Philosophy constituted 0.39% of all first majors across the time period, and 1.9% of all second majors. (These 2009-2017 numbers are higher than the 2016 numbers above because the Philosophy major plummeted sharply during the period.) Women were about a third as likely to complete Philosophy as a first major than men: 0.21% of women did so, compared to 0.62% of men (17,244/8,214,707 vs. 38,241/6,167,753 [p < .001]). Despite 57% of graduates being women, women were only 31% of graduates whose first major was Philosophy.

As I had suspected might be the case, women were a larger proportion of Philosophy graduates whose second major was Philosophy: 35%, instead of 31%. Though the effect size isn't large, it is statistically significant (4,956/14,064 vs. 17,244/55,485 [p < .001]). Put another (perhaps more discouraging) way, 0.65% of women chose Philosophy as a second major, compared to 2.9% of men.

Results by Race

NCES uses the racial categories 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, with these classifications running from the 2010-2011 to the 2016-2017 academic year.

In contrast with gender, race was substantially related to completing a second major, combining all majors.

Percentage of graduates who completed a second major, by race, all majors:

American Indian or Alaska Native: 3.6%
Asian: 5.7%
Black or African American: 2.4%
Hispanic or Latino: 4.8%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 2.8%
White: 5.7%
Two or More Races: 5.3%

To confirm that this wasn't a result of students of different racial identities enrolling in different school types, I checked to see if the results held up for different Carnegie classifications of school types (e.g., Doctorate Universities: Highest Research Activity, Baccalaureate Colleges: Arts & Science Focus), and the same general pattern holds. However, this question merits further exploration.

To see how this looks for Philosophy specifically, it's clearest to compare the breakdown of 1st majors in Philosophy by race with the breakdown of 2nd majors.

First majors in Philosophy, by race:

American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.5%
Asian: 6.1%
Black or African American: 5.1%
Hispanic or Latino: 10.8%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.2%
White: 65.4%
Two or More Races: 3.1%

Second majors in Philosophy, by race:

American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.3%
Asian: 5.7%
Black or African American: 3.2%
Hispanic or Latino: 8.5%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%
White: 69.5%
Two or More Races: 3.8%

Here it is as a bar chart:

[click to clarify and enlarge]

The result is the opposite of what we see with women, and the opposite of what I had predicted: With the exception of "two or more races", students in racial groups other than White were a smaller proportion of graduates with a second major in Philosophy. This was true even of Asian graduates who, combining all majors, were just as likely as White graduates to complete a second major. (All differences in proportion between 1st and 2nd major by race were statistically significant at p < .05.)


Overall across all majors, women weren't much more likely to complete second majors than were men, but they were more likely to do so in Philosophy. Conversely, students from most racial groups other than White were in general substantially less likely to complete second majors than were White students, and the disproportion was even greater among Philosophy majors.

I'm not sure what might explain these patterns or what to do with them. Suggestions welcome!

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