I thought I was pretty much aware of the demographics of women in physics, but in spring 2017 the American Institute of Physics produced a plot that flabbergasted me. I had been watching the percentage of US bachelors in physics going to women steadily rising. But what has been going on for the past 15 years that has caused the percentage of US bachelors to drop from nearly 24% down below 20%? The good news is that absolute number of women getting physics degrees (both bachelors and PhDs) are at record values. And the total number of physics degrees, after oscillating around 4000 for the past 50 years, has shot up to 8000/year. Indeed, talking to physics departments around the country I hear reports of bulging enrollments and needs for moving to larger classrooms.
So why is this expansion preferentially male rather than female? Why are men flocking to physics at a proportionally greater rate than women? It is hard to believe that the market for women physicists is saturated and that out of the whole US population only 1550 young women want to study physics. At UC-Davis they did a study of how students enrolling in different majors migrated over six years to other majors. They show that only about 20% of incoming students remain in math and physical science majors. Why is this happening? Are there similar trends at our institution? These studies have provoked some thoughts of what individuals and departments can do locally to assess their situation and to begin to stem the leak of women - and other underrepresented groups - from the pipeline.