Women’s Underrepresentation in Academic Physics in the People’s Republic of China

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Begell House Inc.


Despite recent scholarly focus on women's underrepresentation in the sciences, little is known about gender disparity in science outside the US and Europe. Since much growth in global science is occurring outside these geographic areas, especially in East Asia, this omission represents a significant gap in the literature. Here we rely on 40 in-depth interviews with both male and female physicists−a discipline of science where there is extensive gender segregation−conducted among physicists in Chinese universities. We ask how Chinese physicists explain why there are few women in physics. Analysis reveals that Chinese social and cultural contexts are reflected in physicists' interpretations of gender segregation. Specifically, the cultural and economic transition in China provides physicists with two competing national gender narratives: gender equality and women's subordination. Both national gender narratives exert influence on Chinese physicists' explanations for gender disparity in physics. Findings further indicate that male and female physicists in China share similar gender beliefs, and their beliefs further translate to discriminatory behaviors towards female physicists throughout their career trajectory. This study asserts a new scholarly discussion about women's underrepresentation in science within China and has implications for gender segregation in elite occupations more broadly. Findings also provide implications for public policies to reduce gender stratification in Chinese science.