Aug. 4, 2004
CUA Study Finds Male Scientists from
Former East Germany To Be More
Open-Minded About Gender Issues
Male scientists in former East Germany are more open-minded about gender issues than their counterparts in former West Germany and the United States, and these attitudes have contributed to greater opportunities for East German women in the sciences, according to a study conducted by CUA sociology Professor Sandra L. Hanson.
The study, published in the latest issue (Volume 10, Number 2) of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, also indicates that East German male scientists tend to be more liberal in their attitudes about gender and work (e.g., whether women can work and still raise families).
Hanson has interpreted the findings as evidence that East German scientists were more open-minded because of that country’s experience with socialism, in which gender equality was presented as an official political goal and women were encouraged to get educations and join the labor force.
“We wanted to compare how women were represented in the sciences in more ‘Westernized’ capitalist nations and in countries that had experiences with socialism, something that hadn’t been done in-depth before,” Hanson says. “There were a lot of negative things that came out of socialism, such as liberties being taken away and people being oppressed. One good thing that did happen, however, was that women were allowed greater opportunities in education and science. Consequently, the largest number of women scientists tends to come from formerly socialist countries.
Hanson and a graduate student worked with researchers from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, to analyze data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), a collaborative project that includes 39 countries. This survey, published every five years or so, in 1994 released data from recent interviews of adults, including 200 scientists, from both German regions and the United States to ascertain educational and career opportunities and attitudes about gender, work and family issues. The data Hanson used was effective because it was compiled not long after Germany was reunified —interviews took place within four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — so those surveyed could compare life during and after socialism.
By the mid-1990s, women in all three countries comprised a much smaller percentage of the science community than men. But that figure was much higher in East Germany than in West Germany and the U.S. For example, West German women made up only 2 percent of
universities’ senior science faculty while East German women comprised 9 percent of senior faculty. In East Germany, women made up 78 percent of the general labor force compared to West Germany’s 39 percent. In addition, the proportion of East German universities’ female science students was 46 percent compared to West Germany’s 32 percent.
In the United States, women represented 49 percent of the population ages 18 to 24 but earned only 35 percent of bachelor’s degrees in earth and ocean science and 18 percent of engineering degrees.
“It has been shown that there has been a bias against women in science,” Hanson says. “For years, women have been earning the same credentials as men, but have lacked access to those vital support networks that pave the way to job placement and research opportunities.”
One portion of the ISSP survey, on which Hanson based much of her project, focused on gender, work and family issues. The scientists were asked questions such as whether a working mother could establish a warm relationship with her child, whether work is required for a woman’s independence and whether the family suffers if the mother works. Overall, East German male scientists were the most liberal or “progressive” of the three groups. U.S. scientists tended to be more liberal that West Germans regarding work questions while West Germans usually were more open-minded than Americans about family issues.
The findings build on the theory that attitudes among colleagues within the science field can help or hinder the advancement of women, Hanson says.
“This paper develops the idea that within the science community there are elite networks of male scientists that work to keep women out,” she says. “Thus, we need to think about changing occupational and science organizations so that they do not allow these networks to keep talented women out.”
Hanson’s next research goal is to analyze the ISSP survey released in 2000 to study how the women scientists view their chances for promotion and upward mobility in their careers.
“We want to ask these women if they think the current system is fair, if they think their hard work will get them ahead and how things have changed in regard to attitudes since 1994,” Hanson says.
Sandra Hanson is a professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. To request an interview, a copy of the research paper or additional information, contact Chris Harrison in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.
All contents copyright © 2004.
The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.