Gender Ratios Vary Widely Across MIT Courses

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Because of an editing error, the Oct. 14 article “Gender Ratios Vary Widely Across MIT Courses” misstated the percentages of women in Course VI undergraduate programs. VI-1 is 37 percent female; VI-2 is 32.2 percent female; and VI-3 is 29.1 percent female. Because of a production error, the Oct. 14, 2008 story “Gender Ratios Vary Widely Across MIT Courses” incorrectly described the coloring of a chart showing graduate student gender ratios by major as “mostly magenta.” In fact it is mostly cyan, indicating that the composition of many graduate programs is more heavily male. Also because of a production error, the article incorrectly stated that the chart for undergraduates “has slightly more cyan than magenta” because women are the majority in more departments; in fact, that chart has more magenta than cyan for that reason.

Although MIT’s undergraduate population is almost half female, only about a third of the undergraduates in the most popular course, VI, are female, according to statistics released by the Office of the Registrar on Oct. 3, 2008.

The numbers, presented on page 11, show striking differences among the gender composition of various courses at the Institute. Three-fourths of the undergraduates whose primary major is Brain and Cognitive Sciences are women, but only one in four undergraduates in Nuclear Science and Engineering is a woman.

Although these statistics show dramatic differences among departments, they should be interpreted with caution because they do not include data from double majors. Almost two hundred students have declared a second major; the most commonly declared second majors are Course XVIII (Mathematics), Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and Course VIII (Physics). But the Registrar’s report does not include information about the number of women electing each second major, or the total number of women electing a second major. The tables on page 11 reflect only the “primary major” for undergraduates.

For the purposes of readability, these tables lump together all students enrolled in related courses — for instance, the separate undergraduate programs VI-I, VI-II, and VI-III are listed together. This lumping may obscure trends within the department. For instance, Course VI undergraduates are, overall, 31.65 percent female. But 35.3 percent of VI-I (electrical engineering) students are female; 29.2 percent of VI-II (electrical engineering and computer science) students are female; and 23.3 percent of VI-III (computer science) students are female.

Similarly, Course XII graduate students are, overall, 48.8 percent female. But this number conceals two programs with less equally balanced compositions. The XII program (graduate degree in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences) is 39.4 percent female. The XII-W program (EAPS at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) is 61 percent female.

The tables at left are shaded to indicate whether a course’s female composition is less than 40 percent (cyan), 40–50 percent (light cyan), 50–60 percent (light magenta), or greater than 60 percent (magenta).

The chart for undergraduates has slightly more cyan than magenta because women are the majority in more departments. Of the ten departments with the most students, women are in the majority in four of those departments.

Another way to think about the distribution of courses is in “schools.” MIT undergraduate course fall into one of five schools; for instance, course VIII (Physics) is in the School of Science. Undergraduate women are in the majority in the School of Architecture and Planning, in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and in the School of Science. But undergraduate women are in the minority in the School of Engineering and in the School of Management.

The chart for graduate students is mostly magenta. The composition of many graduate programs is more heavily male — graduate women are in the minority in most MIT departments and in each of the Institute’s schools.

At MIT, women comprise 1885 of 4153 undergraduates (45.4 percent) and 1907 of 6146 graduate students (31 percent). MIT has about 50 percent more graduate students than undergraduates, but only about two dozen more graduate student women than undergraduate women.

The reports used to generate these tables are available online at