Youngest astronomers are mostly woman, study shows
Posted: June 27, 2003

The latest study of American Astronomical Society members reveals that almost 60 percent of the astronomers in the youngest age bracket are women. The report was made today at the Conference on "Women in Astronomy II: Ten Years After" at the California Institute of Technology.

The study was presented by Dr. Kevin B. Marvel, Deputy Executive Officer of the American Astronomical Society, the national organization of professional astronomers with headquarters in Washington, DC.

About 200 astronomers and other experts, including political, demographic, and social science specialists, and including many young women astronomers, are attending the conference.

When Marvel revealed the latest statistics, based on data on 5962 of the Society's roughly 6500 members, the projection of a bar graph showing the female majority in the youngest age bracket of astronomers was greeted by loud applause from the conferees, assembled in Ramo Auditorium on the Caltech campus in Pasadena.

Specifically, he reported that of AAS members born between January 1, 1980 and January 1, 1985, 56.8 percent are women. In the next older cohort of astronomers, his study shows that of members born between January 1, 1975 and January 1, 1980, just 39.7 percent are women.

Although the results are considered positive, reactions are also guarded. "I'm cautiously optimistic. This shows real progress for women astronomers but differential attrition of women at key stages -- from graduate student to postdoc, for example, or from undergraduate major to graduate student -- remains a serious concern," said Dr. C. Megan Urry. Urry is Professor of Physics at Yale University in New Haven, CT, and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics, as well as a principal organizer of the Conference.

Marvel notes that "The demographics of our youngest members is in stark contrast to our more senior members. For AAS members 50 years of age and older, fewer than 10 percent in any five-year age bracket are women. There is no doubt that the astronomy community is changing."

The Women in Astronomy II Conference continues at Ramo Auditorium, Caltech, through 5:00 PM PDT Saturday, June 28. Besides oral presentations in the Auditorium, poster papers are on display in an adjoining garden.

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