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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Women in Statistics: Beyond the Headline

BLS Commissioner Erica Groshen and Department of Labor Chief Economist Heidi Shierholz wrote this post about women in the statistics profession. This post also was published in the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.

As the top two economists at the Labor Department, a recent article in The Washington Post caught our eye. The article, entitled “Women flocking to statistics, the newly hot, high-tech field of data science,” stated that statistics is the one STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) profession where women are taking the lead.

As women and as economists, we see this as welcome news.

We both strongly believe that guiding more women into careers in science and math is essential. It’s good for women and their families because there are so many new, exciting, and rewarding opportunities in this field. And our whole economy will benefit as more talented women participate fully in these innovative activities. At the Department of Labor we produce a wealth of data on this topic, so we wanted to take a look at the numbers beyond the headline.

People in general are entering statistics jobs—and women seem to be holding their own. The total employment number for statisticians has grown quite a bit in recent years, from 28,000 in 2010 to 72,000 in 2013. Women  accounted for 38.3 percent of those 72,000 statisticians, according to Current Population Survey data. In comparison, the “computer and mathematical occupations” category as a whole was 26.1 percent female.

One telling sign about the potential rise of women in this field is that, prior to 2013, the number of female statisticians was too small to publish. We look forward to making historical comparisons and tracking trends as we get more data on the number of female statisticians in the years to come.

One promising factor is that statistics as a profession is expected to see strong growth in coming years. The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook profile of statisticians shows the employment of statisticians is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the projected growth rate of 11 percent across all occupations. To contrast this with some data from our profession, employment of economists is expected to grow 14 percent in the same time period.

In part because of such strong growth, the field also offers a competitive salary. The median wage for a statistician is $79,290 per year, with about a quarter of statisticians working for the government, mostly at the federal level like us.

Julie Gershunskaya, a BLS statistician who received her Ph.D. in Survey Methodology from the University of Maryland in 2011, said she found in school that students focused much more on each other’s qualifications and experience than on gender.

Already, more women are getting advanced degrees in statistics than in similar fields. According to the American Mathematical Society’s 2013 Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences in the U.S., women accounted for 44 percent of Ph.D.’s granted in statistics/biostatistics, compared to all other mathematical science doctoral degrees combined, where 27 percent are female.

The state where the most statisticians work is Maryland, but if you want to make the most money, head to California, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey, the three top-paying places for statisticians, according to BLS Occupational Employment Statistics.

So, is the headline that “women are flocking to statistics” reflected in our current data? Not quite yet. We can only see a few glimmers thus far, but it’s important to remember that the most detailed data can be slow to reflect the rapid changes we now see anecdotally.

This data snapshot confirms the outlook is indeed bright for the field of statistics as a whole. The rise of women in statistics is especially exciting; we hope it continues and carries forward to other STEM professions as well.