Undergrad Statistics Degrees Continue Large Increases in 2012
Women account for large portion of degrees
This column is written to inform ASA members about what the ASA is doing to promote the inclusion of statistics in policymaking and the funding of statistics research. To suggest science policy topics for the ASA to address, contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Pierson earned his PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota. He spent eight years in the physics department of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and later became head of government relations at the American Physical Society before joining the ASA as director of science policy.
The 2012 statistics degree data recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that interest in undergraduate statistics degrees continues to grow rapidly. Bachelor’s degrees in statistics were up 26% over the year before. Master’s degrees continued strong growth at 6%, and PhD’s were up 10%.
The 2011 to 2012 jump continues the strong growth reported in the May Amstat News column “Growing Numbers of Stats Degrees.” (That column also compared the growth in statistics degrees to mathematics and physics and showed the degree growth also extended to enrollment in undergraduate degrees and AP Statistics.) Bachelor’s degrees more than doubled in five years, while master’s and doctorate degrees doubled over nine-year periods. The 10% jump in PhDs from 2011 to 2012 is because of a 38% jump in biostatistics PhDs, from 125 to 173. See Figure 2.
The 2012 bachelor’s degree total is even higher—1,374 instead of 1,071—if one includes statistics degrees categorized as second degrees. However, for purposes of simple comparison with growth of other degrees, I only use the first award data. The exception is the last two tables in this column, in which I used both first and second degree data.
A further examination of NCES data for statistics and biostatistics shows that, relative to other science fields, a large percentage of statistics degrees are conferred to women. While the majority of biology undergraduate and graduate degrees go to women, more than 40% of statistics degrees go to women. This is much higher than computer science, engineering, and physics. For undergraduate and master’s degrees, roughly the same proportion of mathematics and statistics degrees is conferred to women. For PhDs, the percentage of mathematics degrees going to women drops to roughly 25%.
Figure 4 shows the three levels of statistics degrees for 2003, 2008, and 2012. The proportion of undergraduate degrees going to women seems fairly steady, with perhaps a small recent drop. Master’s degrees are closer to 50% going to women. The PhD data show more variability, perhaps because of the smaller numbers.
If one compares the proportion of degrees going to women between “Statistics, General” and “Biostatistics,” one finds that more biostatistics graduate degrees are going to women. For 2011 and 2012 combined, 57% of master’s degrees in biostatistics went to women (740 total biostatistics degrees over the two years) and 55% of PhDs went to women (298 total degrees). For “Statistics, General,” 47% of master’s degrees went to women (3,600 total degrees over two years) and 39% percent of PhDs went to women (out of 656).
Finally, turning to racial background and ethnicity, Table 1 shows the breakdown by degree level where one sees an increasing percentage of nonresidents earning the degrees as the degree level increases. The percentage of Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos students earning degrees is small in all categories. Excluding the “nonresident alien” and “race/ethnicity unknown” categories, one sees in Table 2 that Asians account for about a quarter of degrees at each level, whites about two-thirds, and the others, collectively, about 10%.
The “other” category includes American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and two or more races. The degree data in tables 1 and 2 are for the five categories used in Figure 1: statistics, general; mathematical statistics and probability; mathematics and statistics; statistics, other; and biostatistics.
For a discussion of mathematical sciences degrees by gender, citizenship/residency, and race/ethnicity, see Chapter 5 of the National Academies’ 2013 report The Mathematical Sciences in 2025.