Women in physics: A statistical overview

Physics is the field of knowledge that explores the inanimate cosmos. It deals with the fundamental phenomena of nature, with matter and its properties, and explains their behavior in space and time through laws. Cognitive progress results in a slow, often tough process of speculating, experimenting, rejecting and discovering as old as physics itself.

Women have always played an essential role in this process (see Denz 1993). Nevertheless, the proportion of women in physics has hardly changed for decades: horizontal gender segregation is almost constant. Until the reunification of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, the proportion of women in West Germany was below 10% in the diplom programs in physics (see Mayer and Sandner 2013), while the proportion of women within all students was almost 40% (see CEWS 2015). In the first data report on equality between women and men in the Federal Republic of Germany reports on physics as a "domain of male students" (see Cornelisen 2005). Current statistics show an increase in women's degrees in physics to about 15-20%, while the proportion in all students is already over 50% (see Mayer and Sandner 2013). There is also a strong segregation of various physical disciplines (see Nothnagel 2001). How difficult it is to interpret these numbers is shown by the number of first-year physicists in physics, which has increased markedly in recent years, to up to 40%, while their share of undergraduate degrees remains persistent at around 15-20% (see Bessenroth-Weberpals 2003). At the university of Münster, for example, the proportion of first year female students in physics was 38% in the winter semester 2014/15 (see WWU Münster 2015). The explanation of these numbers as "parking students" instead of dropouts is now established (see Bessenroth-Weberpals 2003).