How Childhood Socioeconomic Status Has Impacted the Racial Gap in Faculty Positions

A new study led by researchers at the University of Colorado examines the indicators of faculty childhood socioeconomic status and considers how they may limit efforts to diversify the professoriate.

The study analyzed data on education, income, and university ranking from a survey of 7,204 U.S.- based tenure-track faculty across eight disciplines in STEM, social science, and the humanities. They found that faculty are up to 25 times more likely to have a parent with a Ph.D. than the population as a whole. Moreover, this rate nearly doubles at prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years.

The results showed that nearly a quarter of respondents reported at least one of their parents holds a Ph.D., and 3.7 percent of faculty reported both parents hold Ph.D.s. Across all eight disciplines, over half of all faculty have at least one parent with a graduate degree. Compared to the population as a whole in the same group, about one percent have a parent with a Ph.D. and only 7.4 percent had a parent with a graduate degree.

The survey found that 23.4 percent of White faculty have a parent with a Ph.D. compared with 17.2 percent of Black faculty. For women faculty members 25.5 percent of White women have a Ph.D. parent versus 14.6 percent of Black women faculty.

The authors state that “to the extent that the probability of becoming faculty depends on parental education, and specifically on having Ph.D. parents, this large racial gap in Ph.D. attainment is an intergenerational impediment to the proportion of Black scholars who become tenure-track faculty.”

“The professoriate is, and has remained, accessible disproportionately to the socioeconomically privileged,” the authors write. And it is clear that the “socioeconomically privileged” are predominately White.

The full study, “Socioeconomic Roots of Academic Faculty,” was published on the website of the journal Nature Human Behavior. It may be accessed here.


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