Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Jennifer Platt (2000) 'Women in the British Sociological Labour Market, 1960-1995'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 4, <>

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Received: 29/7/1999      Accepted: 18/10/1999      Published: 29/2/2000


Women have been a much lower proportion of university teachers of sociology than of students in sociology in Britain, and have also been under-represented in the higher ranks of academia. This has often been treated as the effect of discrimination. However, a review of available data suggests that women's choices - however formed - have also played a role, and that changing historical circumstances have affected the demography of the discipline in ways which have had significant consequences for women (and men) independent of either choice or discrimination. The current pattern cannot be understood without its history, which reveals that much of the snapshot picture of the situation now follows from strata of recruitment laid down at earlier periods.

Labour Market; Sociologists; Universities; Women's Employment

Women in the British Sociological Labour Market

This paper examines some of the reasons why women in Britain, though usually a majority among Sociology graduates, have been much less represented in university teaching jobs in Sociology, especially at higher levels. It argues that the present pattern cannot be understood without taking into account historically changing structural, demographic features of the labour market, as well as changes in women's preferences. Much discussion has imputed wholly to discrimination against women outcomes which have been importantly affected by such factors. Some methodological points are raised about the data appropriate to address these issues, and an interpretation of how such factors have affected developments over time is suggested.

In public discussion, misleading descriptions of the situation have been common. A recent article in AUT Woman represents this tendency. It said that '...women are ... five and a half times... less likely to be appointed to a professorial grade than men...' (Halvorsen 1999: 1). This is based on the ratio among staff in 1996-7, but ignores the fact that many then in professorial grades were appointed to them years ago, and so represent past rather than present practices and opportunities. Present opportunities cannot be read off from the characteristics of present job-holders. There has been historical change on several fronts since 1960, and this must be taken into account to understand the present situation. In addition, the under-representation of women in academia has often been treated, without specific evidence on the occurrence of discrimination, as if all gender differences were inequalities due to that, and labour market features had played no role. That there have been many fewer women than men is entirely consistent with a pattern of discrimination against women, but it does not prove it; it is equally consistent with a pattern of choices by women - and does not prove that either. While there can be no doubt that there has been discrimination against women[1], this paper is concerned with the role played by other factors.

Part of the explanation of the differential cannot be specific to Sociology, or to universities[2], but must depend on larger societal tendencies in the employment of women. But in such a specialised labour market broader tendencies have a bearing only if they are also apparent among the relevant groups - as they have been to some extent. There has been considerable recent sociological discussion of how to interpret the roles of choice and constraint in changing patterns of women's work, and alternative positions may be represented by the recent interchange between Crompton and Harris (1998) and Hakim (1998). 'Choices' may, of course, be constrained, and there is every reason to believe that women's choices often have been. (Men's too, though not always the same constraints.) The relative role of choice and constraint cannot be resolved sociologically, if the category of choice is admitted at all, since it is always possible to argue that what is experienced as a choice is really socially determined, and that what is experienced as a constraint might have been overcome. However, this paper focuses on the more proximate causes, and in that context uses some data on declared preferences, without attempting to address the question of how those preferences may have been socially formed. It can be argued, it will be suggested, both that in this case patterns of 'choice' have changed over time between cohorts, and that other, structural, changes have meant that the opportunities for preferences to be expressed in outcomes have varied in ways which have sometimes collided with 'choice'. Women sociologists were for some time less interested in university work and, once they became more interested, the opportunities were fewer.

The University Labour Market

The university labour market is a highly specialised one, but its operation still depends on the interaction between the demand for and supply of its potential workers. What this paper does is, in effect, to bring together as much data as possible on demand and supply as it has applied to Sociology, and use it to address the gender composition of the labour force.

The supply for university employment must be from among those qualified and available. 'Qualified' implies at least a 'good' first degree in a field related to Sociology, though a higher degree might replace a first degree in another field, or a less 'good' one. In the earlier period, the slow institutionalisation of sociology and the small number of graduates meant that some posts were taken by people without qualifications in Sociology; for instance, among the first professors were several who by training were anthropologists or social geographers.[3] However, the only figures from which it makes sense to estimate the stock of qualified candidates are those of graduates in Sociology. What is treated in practice as the necessary level of qualification is likely to vary as the stock of qualified people varies; when few people have a PhD, that will not be a necessary qualification, though it may become such when the stock of PhDs increases.

'Available' means in the labour market and interested in university employment (if only to the extent necessary to accept an unexpected opportunity when it offers.) Availability cannot be so precisely measured as qualifications, but appropriate data would be on labour market participation and declared interest in work/university work/work in sociology rather than in other fields. Since total university jobs are extremely few, there have been many more qualified people than opportunities. Their levels of interest in university jobs are likely to have been affected not only by such factors as salaries and workloads, but also by their perception of the opportunities; more will think seriously of the possibility when such jobs seem relatively easily obtainable. 'Available' for particular jobs also means able and willing to work in the area, which may imply geographical mobility. (University jobs have been distinguished from many others, such as schoolteaching - especially when, as in the 1960s, there were far fewer universities - by their confinement to a small number of geographical areas.) People not willing to move are less available.

The demand for university employees consists of the number of jobs available. The chances of university employment for new recruits depend on the number of new openings at the relevant time (which depends on wastage rates among existing employees, and the creation of additional jobs). Except at times of swift expansion, or severe financial cutbacks, security of tenure in permanent university jobs has been high and turnover low; turnover varies with the ages of the current group, and their propensity to leave for reasons other than retirement. A large change in recruitment policy still takes years to make a significant difference to the characteristics of those in post. When recruitment is not spread evenly over the years, the age structure of the profession becomes skewed, so that the number of normal retirements can vary considerably over time; that also affects promotion chances. Such demographic processes have, over the period in question, been supplemented and intensified by changing national policies (on university finances, student numbers and staff/student ratios) which have had major effects both on the total jobs available and on the number of senior posts.

Many other factors are involved in the position of women in universities and in the sociological labour market, but they are not considered here. Valuable work has been done on the processes by which students decide on and are selected for preferred careers, and the intellectual styles and topics which are preferred and encouraged among potential recruits (e.g. Parry et al. 1994, Delamont et al. 1997), on potentially discriminatory procedures in selection among job applicants and the treatment of those appointed (e.g. Fulton 1993, Cole 1998), on features of intellectual style in the discipline which affect its receptiveness to women's concerns (e.g. Banks and Webb 1977, Stanley 1984) and on informal networks and social styles which affect success less directly (e.g. Bagilhole 1993, Becher 1989). The argument here is, however, concerned not with the dynamics of such processes so much as with a framework within which they have operated.[4]

The chances for any individual, or category of persons, to get a university job in Sociology depend on the ratio between the numbers qualified and available [supply], and the number of jobs available [demand]. Below, the changes in supply and demand for university employment - which have been very significant - are reviewed, and the implications of the relationship between them for the gender distribution of faculty members are discussed.

Data Sources

All the quantitative data presented here derive from secondary sources. Important measures in principle for our purposes are the numbers of new jobs available each year, and the turnover among existing jobholders. The data available are uneven, and the most reliable and comprehensive, in the published official statistics, commonly use such broad categories that they do not help. The best available practical measure, used here, is simply the jobs recorded as actually held by individuals.[5] A major source for that is the Commonwealth Universities Year Book (CUYB).

A large number of other sources are also used. The literature has been scanned, and every source identified which gave quantitative data about numbers of jobs in university Sociology, or about job preferences and outcomes for Sociology graduates, has been used. (Where there are no studies treating Sociology separately, we have fallen back on data about wider groups.) The sources vary in their focus, style, and the quality of the data, and are unevenly spread over the period, so it is often necessary to use material which does not provide as solid a basis for conclusions as one would wish. There are, however, sufficient materials cumulatively to make an interpretation of the pattern of change plausible despite the limitations of individual studies.[6]

Representation of Women in University Sociology

Table 1 shows the proportion of women deemed to be sociologists with teaching posts at intervals over the period studied. The figures are almost certainly not totally accurate, but problems important for our purposes here only arise if there are factors which operated differently for men and women. There is reason to believe that a few of those counted, especially at earlier periods when a number of 'sociology' departments were in effect joint ones, might more accurately be described as social workers, and this was more likely to apply to the women, so the early proportion of women 'sociologists' has probably been over-estimated. However, the broad picture is sufficiently clear; men have always been in a considerable majority.

Patterns of Historical Change - Supply

The concept of 'over'- or 'under'-representation, as shown by differences in the proportion of those qualified for posts and those gaining them, assumes that if there are other qualities which should select those suited to university teaching they may be rare, but are evenly distributed between the sexes, so that the proportion of either sex recruited would be expected, in the absence of other factors, to have varied with the gender division of the graduate cohorts. That working assumption is, therefore, made here.

The supply of candidates for academic posts is examined, and it is shown that a lower proportion of women graduates have been continuously active in the labour market, have been interested in university jobs, and have had the level of qualifications preferred for academic jobs. While, in earlier years, there might have been a shortage of supply if that was limited to those with postgraduate qualifications, for much of the time there were far more graduates with the basic minimum qualifications than there were posts, as one would expect (table 2 and table 3). However, it could never be assumed that academic work was a major preferred destination, at least for those with undergraduate degrees, so the formal over-supply of potential candidates does not lead automatically to excessive numbers of applications for academic jobs. To understand the supply, we need also to take into account levels of qualification, labour market participation, and declared preferences and choices. If those differ for men and women, that could affect the outcome - and there is evidence that they did.

Numbers Qualified

Table 2 and table 3 show the figures on graduates in Sociology by gender. Numbers of first-degree graduates rose dramatically through the 1960s and early 1970s, fell sharply in 1975-6 and then recovered, to fall extremely sharply in 1985 and remain lower since then, though with a slight recent recovery. National policy played a significant role in these fluctuations. The much smaller numbers receiving higher degrees also rose markedly from 1967-74, increased in 1975 rather than showing a dip, and then stayed around the earlier level until 1984, after which there is a very sharp fall there too, with again some revival in the 1990s.

Within those totals, there are interesting variations in the proportions of women. Until 1968, women were over 60% of those receiving first degrees; the proportion of men then increased strikingly, until in the late 1970s they were over half the cohort. One may suspect that this was at least in part associated with the student politics of that time of unrest, in which sociology students were prominent (Blackstone et al 1970: 212-214), and with the popularity in the discipline then of macho Marxism. But in the 1980s men fell back again, and ever since women have been from 64% to 70% of the total. (Note that the higher proportion of men came from the largest total cohorts.)

Williams et al. [7](1974: 101) found that for appointments to lectureships made in 1968-1971 a much higher proportion of candidates with Firsts but no higher degree than with PhDs were successful. Graduates with a lower degree class than 2.1 would not conventionally be in line for academic jobs, but these figures do not provide that breakdown; that is, however, a reason for not treating the whole number of graduates as really qualified for university work. (The proportion getting 'good' degrees has risen over time, which may well have affected the relative acceptability of the same classes.) It is known that in general women have been less likely than men to get Firsts (Jones and Castle 1986: 291-3 ), and this has also applied in Sociology, as confirmed by the latest figures from official sources. To the extent that this is so, a preference for Firsts will weaken their chances.

Higher degrees have not always been an essential initial qualification. It used to be common for lecturers to complete their PhDs while in post, rather than before gaining a permanent job (or not to complete them at all after getting one); this was more likely to be acceptable when there was a shortage of candidates. Robbins (1963: 178) showed that in the social studies only 16% of those recruited to the profession in 1959-61 had a PhD, and a further 22% an MA. Among those taking higher degrees women were in the earlier part of the period always in a minority, though one that rose fairly steadily until the ratio settled at around 60:40 in the late 1970s[8]; since the 1980s, women have become consistently more than half of those taking higher degrees.

Those with postgraduate qualifications must be regarded as the more obvious candidates for academic jobs, so it is of interest to look, however crudely, at the relation between their numbers and the number of jobs available; table 4 presents data on this. It shows that the proportion of higher graduates who could realistically expect a university teaching job dropped sharply in the latter half of the 1970s, and spectacularly in the early 1980s (when there was a large decrease in the total number of jobs), while the proportion of women among them rose.

Labour Market Participation

Crompton (1997: 27-29) shows how in the post-war period levels of economic activity by married women in Britain have risen markedly: by 1961 at least 30% of women at different ages from 20 to 50 were active, while by 1991 this had risen to at least 60%, though much of that work was part-time. These national trends have relevance insofar as such conventions have also applied to highly educated women, and material on their labour force participation shows a fairly 'conventional' gender pattern among graduates. Westoby et al.'s study of three cohorts of social-science graduates found that while by 1972 most of the single women were working, two thirds of even the 1967 cohort were married. Those married but without children were somewhat less likely to be in the labour force, while of those married and with children 75% of the 1967 cohort and 62% of the 1961 cohort were not employed (1976: 54-5). By 1966, only 56% of the women in Kelsall et al.'s sample were in paid work. Of the women among Webb's 1966 Sociology graduates by 1971 71% were married, though most had no children; 40% of the married women were not working, and of the women with children 53% were housewives without other occupation. But by 1986, a higher proportion of Dolton and Makepeace's 1980 graduates remained in work, though this included less than half the women with children (1992: 83). [9] Insofar as such patterns held among the minority who went into academic work, one would expect there to be fewer women after early career stages. But women in academia have historically been more likely to be unmarried, whether by choice or by chance; it no longer seems likely that this is in any sense a condition of a successful academic career, though marriage and childbearing may make that harder.[10] Williams et al. (1974: 41-2, 25), however, found that the proportion of women among university teachers who were married had increased from 34% to 43% between 1961 and 1971, but that they had fewer children than the general population. In older age groups, women had served as long as men, which suggested that they had not dropped out for childrearing and returned.

Much the commonest reason women in Kelsall et al.'s sample gave for not having work was a preference to look after their own children (not lack of available child care). Sixty per cent of those not in paid work said they would like a job, but even among those with no children a majority only wanted a part-time one. The authors remark that '...marital status and the arrival of children each had a limiting effect on the career opportunities of our sample of women... the women themselves appeared to be relatively satisfied with this state of affairs...' (1972: 141) Women graduates at every period we have data on have more often than men felt that their job options were constrained by family needs. Among Williamson's university social studies graduates, 6% of the men but 28% of the women reported having left their first job for 'personal reasons', usually family ones; for latest jobs, it was 1% and 31% (1981: 17, 31). Dolton and Makepeace found that women had more often left a first job for family reasons. Thirty-two percent of the women among Pearson et al.'s graduate students, as compared with only 13% of the men, felt that job location was a significant restriction on their range of choice, and it is inferred that family reasons were involved (1991: 55).[11]

Interest in Academic Careers

We need to take into account as part of supply not merely the stock of those with appropriate qualifications, but also the level of interest shown in university employment by those qualified. Several studies throw light on the behaviour of graduates in the labour market, some in Sociology and some in broader groups.

When they started as students more than 40% of the women to graduate in 1960 who had a future occupation in mind said they would prefer schoolteaching, and only 6% preferred university teaching or research; on graduation, the number preferring a university career had risen to 10%, but as compared with 55% for one in schools (Kelsall et al. 1972: 142, 226). Banks and Webb cite Abbott's data[12] on students starting Sociology courses in 1963, which showed that a majority of them had opted for sociology because they wanted a career in social welfare. Although before graduation substantial minorities of both men and women were interested in academic work, it was a much larger minority for men, and more women declared an interest in social work. [13] Williams et al. (1974: 199) found that there were few female applicants for the vacancies they studied - though a slightly higher proportion of them than of the men got the job they applied for. Williamson (1981: 10) found that among 1970 university graduates 15% of the men, and 13% of the women aspired in the final year of their courses to find a university job. Abbott (1967) showed that, though before graduation large minorities of both men and women were interested in academic work, the minority among men was much larger, and more women expressed an interest in social work. (table 5). University employment was thus quite a popular preference, especially at the period of maximum expansion, though never sought by more than a minority. However, more men showed an interest in it, while women generally showed much more interest in schoolteaching, and those graduating in Sociology had a strong inclination towards social work.

Finally, although the jobs actually taken do not directly indicate preference, they do throw some light on the meaningfulness of stated preferences, and we find that the patterns correspond well to the preferences stated. Substantial minorities of Webb's 1966 Sociology graduates had first become academic sociologists (table 6); but these had been a higher proportion of the men, and the proportion among men, but not among women, had increased by 1971. Women had more often gone into schoolteaching or social work, which accounted for nearly half of those in employment at both stages. His 1970 graduates (1973: 56, 59) showed a similar gender differential in first jobs, though with a lower proportion becoming academic sociologists; 38% of the women and 14% of the men became social workers (Banks and Webb 1977: 68). Both Dolton and Makepeace(1992), and Westoby et al. (1976: 72), found that the women were much more likely than the men to work in schoolteaching or social work. [14]

For the period covered by these studies, thus, the picture of gender differences is consistent. Women entered student life with a strong inclination towards schoolteaching, and entered Sociology with a strong inclination towards 'caring' occupations; they showed a marked tendency to act on those inclinations on graduation, with many going into social work, as they had originally intended.[15] Most of the graduates married and had children within a few years of graduation. Married women, especially those with younger children, were less likely to be in the labour market, though the proportion rose over time among Sociology graduates as among women generally. Women were more likely than men to feel constrained geographically by family considerations. Men showed more interest in university work. Even in the 1980s, Dolton and Makepeace show similar outcomes, although Sociology graduates cannot be distinguished in their data, and such differences persist as the levels of economic participation rise. The women seriously interested in a university career may have been an atypical minority, but the data about the wider group show that choices, however formed, go some way towards accounting for the observed differentials. There were surely enough qualified women to fill a higher proportion of the university posts, but not nearly so many both interested and well qualified that one should expect them to be represented as heavily among staff as they were among students.


We turn now to consider demand, as indicated by the number of new posts available. These posts did not have gender labels, but fluctuations in their level, due mainly to changes in government policy, have had gender consequences.

Policies and Job Totals

In the 1950s the University Grants Committee planned for expansion of social science. Through the 1960s the 'new universities' were being founded, and the Colleges of Advanced Technology became universities. In addition, numbers at teacher training colleges increased dramatically, with a swing to more sociological teaching there (Stewart 1989: 74, 77), and the Polytechnics were moving increasingly into the social sciences and degree-level work. It is not surprising that over a similar period Robbins (1963: 10) showed that a rising percentage (3.7% in 1952-3, 7.8% in 1961-2) of the home graduates three years earlier was entering university teaching as jobs increased. Banks' study of 1952 and 1953 graduates in Sociology and Anthropology (mostly Sociology) showed that 45% of those with higher degrees, and 11% of those with first degrees, were employed in university teaching or research two and a half years after completing their studies (Banks 1958: 277). Westoby et al. (1976: 71-3) found that by 1972 nearly half of 1967 social-science graduates with a postgraduate qualification were employed in university or polytechnic lecturing, while about three-fifths of those from earlier cohorts were. Even among those with only undergraduate degrees 7.4% of the youngest group were lecturers, and this rose to 39% for those with Firsts. In June, 9% of all authorised posts were vacant, 32% of those at assistant lecturer level and 10% of professorships (Robbins 1963). 'Social studies' changed from being the faculty with the oldest staff in 1962 to that with the youngest in 1969 as new staff were recruited, and Registrars reported finding it difficult to fill posts (Bibby 1972: 26, 29).

Robbins (1963: 139) attempted to project future demand for university teachers. It was anticipated that the proportion of all graduates needed would rise sharply until 1965-6, and then fall until the late 1970s, when the birthrate would create another period of pressure. If standards of recruitment were maintained, in the middle 1960s the proportion of all graduates with 1sts and 2.1s needed for university teaching would be 34%, as compared with the 22% actually taken in 1959-62.[16] Williams et al. (1974: 14) point out that what actually happened is that there has been a '... lagged system in which a period of scarcity of recruits caused by accelerated expansion such as was experienced in the mid-1960s is followed almost inevitably by a subsequent glut of well-qualified applicants...' This reflects assumptions about staff/student ratios which do not anticipate the financial constraints which later affected them, but while those assumptions are met the glut follows automatically. The problem may be illustrated by the changing ratios between undergraduates and postgraduates, seen as potential new staff.[17] Among 1966-9 graduates, the earliest group for which all the data are published, the undergraduate: postgraduate ratio was 5.7:1; by 1970-4 it was down to 3.9:1, and from then until 1989 it has been in the range 1.7-1.9:1.

The interaction between supply and demand before 1970 is illustrated by some less quantitative material. The Director of the London School of Economics, reporting in its Calendar for 1948-9, declared that the lack of expansion in staff since 1938, despite much increased student numbers, was due to a shortage of suitable candidates. Some of the women who held the earliest jobs in sociology have described how they graduated with excellent degrees in the late 1930s or during the war, and were invited to apply for teaching jobs at a time when not only were many fewer men graduating, but those already qualified were being directed into war work.[18] This does not show that there was not discrimination against women, but if there was it shows how extreme circumstances could overcome it.

It is also notable how, later, some of those appointed during the great expansion achieved academic careers without even trying. Interviews with a number of long-established colleagues have produced repeated descriptions of recruitment to the profession like these:

'I was sitting out on the grass in the sun one day [after graduating] and [Head of Department] leaned out of a window and said "Mr 'Smith', what are you doing over the summer?", and I said "getting married"! So he said "Would you like to be a teaching assistant?"' [Man, started 1966] 'I had no intention of becoming an academic... I got a First, the best of my year... I got a telegram saying "...there are these jobs...", so I came back and registered as a graduate student; I had no overall plan, an opportunity presented itself...before I'd got very far with my PhD I was offered a job, originally a one-year assistant lectureship.' [Woman, started 1966]

But the expansion did not continue, and probably such informal modes of recruitment did not either. By the 1970s there was a surplus of potential university teachers. At the height of the expansion over 50% of the higher degree graduates of the previous year had entered the profession; in 1969-70 and 1970-71 this became less than 20%. The average number of applicants reported for each advertised junior post rose, from 10 to 17 in 'Social Studies' (Williams et al. 1974: 190, 195). Williams and Blackstone (1983: 10) identify 1972 as an important turning point. A White Paper for the first time since Robbins revised a forecast of student numbers downwards, and such revisions continued through the 1970s. There were severe financial cutbacks in 1973-4 (Moore 1987: 28). In response to this situation, the Social Science Research Council set up a Manpower Information Panel, and Balmer and Mendelburg (1979) reported for it on the replacement demand for university and polytechnic teachers in the social sciences. They provide figures for the levels of recruitment that would thus be required to support various possible regimes of expansion, stability or contraction for universities. (table 7 ) For Sociology, a stable situation would have required 42 recruits per year for replacement.

Then in 1981 the new Conservative government made a cut (not corresponding to changes in the numbers of qualified school leavers) of more than 8% in expenditure on higher education up to 1983-4 as compared with the levels planned in 1980 (Williams and Blackstone 1983: 13-14). Thus by the early 1980s the academic profession seemed to be contracting. A Premature Retirement Compensation Scheme was introduced, with much pressure on those eligible to take advantage of it, and there were few new opportunities even for candidates with excellent qualifications. Since then, new appointments have started again, though staff/student ratios have not recovered to the levels of earlier periods; this probably owes something both to the staffing standards proposed by the Review of Sociology (University Grants Committee 1988), and to the financial incentives of the Research Assessment Exercise.

In 1991 another study, of departments, employers, and graduate students completing in 1985-8, looked at recent stocks and flows and alternative future scenarios. There were in 1989-90 1388 Sociology staff, a net increase of 19 since 1985-6. However, there was greater recruitment than shows in the net outcome, since some existing staff left. The female proportion of total staff fell from 29.5% in 1985-6 to 26.6% in 1989-90; this was still the highest proportion among the social sciences studied, and women averaged 59% of the intake to jobs in Sociology over the period. Estimates of recruitment needs for 1990-2000, based on recent wastage levels, varied for Sociology from 168 if there was zero growth, to 301 if the growth rate was the same as that experienced in 1985-9 (Pearson et al.1991: 123-165). [19]

How these changes affected individual departments may be exemplified by one on which we have complete records: at least one new permanent appointment was made in 12 of the 15 years from 1965 to 1979 - and then the next one was in 1989; of the 24 people appointed from 1965-79, 13 are still in post, and a pattern of fairly regular new appointments only started again in 1993.


To understand the processes fully, we need not only to look at job totals, but also to follow the careers of individuals; ten jobs held by the same people for 30 years does not represent the same opportunities as those jobs held for 30 years by numbers of different people, even if the gender count remains the same.

Table 4 showed how the proportion of women appointed to new jobs has increased markedly since 1980 (though with a break in the later '80s), corresponding to an increase in their higher degrees, though the increase in appointments was greater than the increase in degrees. But comparison with table 1 shows that, though women took almost half of the new jobs in the latest period, that still left them with only just over a quarter of the total. This suggests that something much nearer to equal representation of the sexes will be reached if the trend continues. But for that to produce gender equality overall will take longer, because of the enduring effects of earlier recruitment. Of the 302 different individuals who held university Sociology posts in 1960, 1964 or 1968, 23% still held such posts in 1992, and they held 16% of the posts existing in that year; of the 574 different individuals who held such posts in 1972 or 1976, 24% still held such posts in 1992, and they held 32% of the posts existing then. Thus nearly half of the posts held at the beginning of the '90s reflected decisions made more than 15 years earlier.


Those recruited in the late 1960s found a bottleneck in promotion opportunities as they approached the age where promotion had been a reasonable normal expectation (Williams and Blackstone 1983: 68-9). (This depended in part on the constraint that universities were from 1969-72 not allowed to have more than 35% - above the average level at that time - of their staff in senior posts, and then the maximum was 40% until the late '80s.) The Principal of Glasgow University drew attention to this in terms generally relevant:

'... the distribution of staff in the university shows that nearly 60% were recruited during the 60s and early 70s. Unless something is done to recognise the extraordinary circumstances affecting ... that cohort, many are going to be deprived of their just rewards... all universities are now entering a decade when the rate of retirement of academic staff which will largely determine the number of promotions to be made each year will be about one third the rate at which younger colleagues... approach the time when an appropriate proportion can be expected to satisfy the criteria for promotion. Moreover until members of the latter group themselves pass into retirement, their presence... will adversely affect the prospects of more junior staff.' (Wilson 1976: 5)

Hirsh and Morgan wrote in 1978 on the problem of declining prospects for academic advancement. The age structure of staff meant that few retirements of those holding senior posts were to be anticipated for some time. If chances of eventual promotion were maintained at their 1971 values, the average age of promotion would rise (Hirsh and Morgan 1978: 54).

Did women drop out more than men? That might explain their under-representation in senior posts, since people with longer service are more likely to be promoted. This will be investigated in detail for a sample of careers at a later stage of this research; for now, CUYB lists throw some light. A comparison of the lists for 1972 and 1997 shows that, of those listed for 1972, almost exactly the same proportion of men and of women were still there in 1997. This strongly suggests that women have not dropped out more. Of the 43 women no longer there in 1997, 13 are known to have retired in the normal way, two to have emigrated to academic jobs abroad, and five to have changed disciplinary affiliation, chosen to leave university employment, or taken a job in a polytechnic; nothing is known about the rest. These proportions are very similar to those for the parallel group of men. No cases are known of women or men leaving for family reasons. Nationally, the higher proportions of women appointed in the early '70s were, like their male contemporaries, particularly likely to be caught in the promotion bottleneck. However, among the 1972 postholders still there in 1997, 79% of the men, and 71% of the women, then held senior posts, almost exactly half for each being professorships. This suggests that longevity is rewarded, while gender has been relatively unimportant.[20]

We see that total demand has fluctuated strikingly, with a considerable number of posts filled earlier in the period, and many fewer new opportunities in the 1980s, followed by a lesser increase in recruitment in the 1990s. High continuity of employment means that the pattern until now has remained strongly influenced by the exceptionally large intake of the early period. Any group under-represented in the earlier recruitment has, thus, been demographically disadvantaged ever since in opportunities for jobs and promotions, for reasons independent of its members' personal characteristics.


The data presented suggest, if they do not unequivocally show, a trajectory in which gender factors and the structure of employment, both changing over time, intersected to produce the current situation. Initially relatively few women in Sociology wanted to be university teachers. When the great expansion of the universities, and of Sociology in particular, took place, many young people were recruited, the large majority men; there were few women applicants. Although there surely was some discrimination against women at various career stages, its strength in recruitment has varied with the relation between market demand and supply. (The strong present situation for women could, thus, indicate the relative decline in attractiveness of academic jobs as much as improved equal opportunities practice.) Some youngish men found themselves in surprisingly senior posts because there was no one else to fill them - and have continued to hold them as they grew older. Then the times changed, the women's movement became active, and more women took higher degrees and became interested in university jobs. But the timing of this was unfortunate; by now there were far fewer such jobs available for anyone. Moreover, those women who had got in in time were caught, along with many male colleagues, in the great demographic promotion blockage. The widely felt resentment at the situation, among men as well as women, owed much to relative deprivation as compared with the previous cohort. (Perhaps the forcefulness of women's complaints about the lack of jobs and advancement was not simply because their situation was worse in relation to their aspirations than that of men, but because they now had the ideology and language of feminism in which to couch their dissatisfaction?[21])

At every period the opportunities for those who do not already have jobs in the system depend on the ratio between candidates (supply) and vacancies (demand). The number of candidates depends on the distribution of qualifications, and the interest of those holding them in university work. The number of vacancies is strongly affected by both policy for universities, and the age structure of those already in post. These have fluctuated dramatically over time, in ways which have been directly consequential for the proportions of women teaching in university sociology. The present pattern needs to be understood in the light of this history and its continuing structural consequences.


1 The author thanks Rosemary Crompton and Richard Pearson for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. 1 Dyhouse (1995) has shown what very direct discrimination there was in the interwar period.

2 Other disciplines too within universities have under-represented women, so in that sense Sociology is not a special case; here, however, no attempt is made to explore the similarities and differences.

3 Some of those qualified and available, and actually employed in Britain, have foreign qualifications and may have been abroad until getting a British job. (Correspondingly, though not necessarily in the same numbers, people qualified in Britain might get jobs abroad.) The number of foreigners available depends on factors outside Britain, while those appointed depend on the British situation. Methodologically, these groups create the problem that they appear only in one side of the figures; since there is no solution to this problem, it is ignored.

4The work reported here is part of a larger project which will also have data on individual careers over time and on the motives and experiences which led to individual decisions, this wider range of factors will be dealt with in future publications.

5 The possibility of using advertisements was investigated, but it became evident that this was not practical.

6 The propensity to conduct such studies has varied over time, illustrating the varying concerns felt. One major source of data is studies done under the auspices of the British Sociological Association (BSA), expressing its concern - strong in the 1950s and early 1960s - about the perceived shortage of job opportunities for Sociology graduates. Another major source is the series of studies for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which, as the official body providing funding both for postgraduate support and for research in the social sciences, has had a continuing interest in the demand for postgraduates and the supply of well-qualified researchers.

7 This was a study of a large representative sample of university teachers, plus analysis of 1968-1971 vacancies and applications for them.

8 Rudd (1990: 208) also shows that for 1972-7 graduates more of the men with good degrees ended up with a PhD, though women who attempted one had the same success rate .

9Westoby et al.'s study, in 1972, was of 2,567 social-science graduates from 1950-1, 1961 and 1967. Kelsall et al. studied a sample of 10,000 from the whole range of 1960 graduates, followed up in 1966. Banks and Webb did a postal follow-up of 1966 Sociology graduates surveyed by Abbott and willing to be recontacted, and for 1970 graduates had a complete list from institutions and a good response rate to a postal questionnaire. Different parts of these data are used in Webb (1972) and (1973) and Banks and Webb 1977. Williamson, and Dolton and Makepeace, made postal surveys of 1970 and 1980 graduates, with reasonably representative samples of 9660 and 7141 respectively.

10 The 'nepotism' rules in some universities will have made it hard for women married to colleagues to work there too; this is less limiting in areas with more than one university, which may contribute to Rendel's finding (1980: 145) that women had better representation in London.

11 Similarly Court et al. (1996: 52), in a study of researchers in social science in 1995, found that the difficulty of combining work and family was still an issue, and women were more likely than men to follow a partner.

12 Joan Abbott's (1969) study of Sociology students (Employment of Sociology and Anthropology Graduates, 1966-7, mimeo, BSA), is referred to in the literature, but no copy of it has been located. The data quoted come from a summary of its main conclusions made for the BSA Executive, found in the papers deposited at the British Library of Political and Economic Science (BSA papers, Box A 4, folder 29).

13 Banks and Webb suggest that the strongly theoretical emphasis in many departments, and the hostility shown to individualistic social welfare concerns, may have discouraged women from identifying with the academic subject. They also divided Sociology graduates by the relative ranks they gave to working with people and with ideas in their ideal jobs. The fairly large minority working as lecturers much more often ranked 'working with ideas' higher, while those in social work, schoolteaching or industrial jobs ranked 'working with people' higher (1977: 28), which is suggestive about motives.

14 Fielding and Glover (1999: 355-9) similarly found that among graduates in science, engineering and technology the commonest occupation for men was management, while for women it was schoolteaching; this remained so over time and applied to women with or without children, although stronger for those with children. Women in professional scientific employment tended to leave the labour market in their late 20s, the typical age for childbearing.

15 One cannot tell how far such preferences were simply preferences, as opposed to anticipatory adjustment to a labour market more likely to provide such opportunities for women in couples giving priority to the husband's career. However, women interested in a university career might have it in social work or related fields, where they have been heavily represented, rather than in Sociology, and those posts tend to be reached by a longer and more indirect route. (Jones 1964: 46-9, Kaim-Caudle et al. 1980: 54-5, 58-60)

16 At the period of the Report, only 25% of all graduates in 1955-58 got a 1st or 2.1; the projections made assumed that this proportion would be maintained.

17 This measure was suggested by Kim et al 1999.

18 LSE was then in effect the only supplier of Sociology graduates. By 1944, its prewar sex ratio of c.70% men, 30% women, had almost been reversed, with 224 men and 494 women, though by 1951-2 it was more like 80% men (Dahrendorf 1995: 144-5, 371). That reflected the return of men from war work, and the provision of special grants to enable ex-servicemen to attend university; the ex-service numbers peaked in 1949-50 (Stewart 1989: 48), and provided the cohort who were established enough for senior posts when new departments were created.

19 Elias et al. (1997: 52), surveying institutional personnel departments, found, however, that in the mid -'90s the rising number of higher graduates had led to an average of 25 applicants per appointee for junior posts in Sociology.

20 Blackstone and Fulton (1975: 265-8), though, found that women at that time were less likely to have gained promotion than men of equivalent qualifications. There are of course many factors besides longevity which may be looked at for explanation of promotions. One is suggested by Williams et al. (1974: 399), who found that the women in their sample scored higher on job satisfaction, tending ' be satisfied with simple membership of the high status profession, ...and... more willing to forgo high rewards in terms of salaries or the top jobs'..

21 Some found jobs, and now occupy senior positions, in Women's Studies rather than Sociology; this could be seen as a group successfully creating a new market for their services.


The work on which this article is based comes from a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, whose support is gratefully acknowledged


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