Woman-dominated veterinary medicine is self-fulfilling prophecy

Woman-dominated veterinary medicine is self-fulfilling prophecy

Researcher says men may take "preemptive flight" when they see mostly women in veterinary college classrooms.
Nov 05, 2010
By dvm360.com staff

More women than men are applying for veterinary school—making up as much as 80 percent of applicants at some schools. That's not because men are avoiding perceived lower wages in veterinary medicine, says one researcher. It's because male applicants are avoiding fields filled with women.

That's the conclusion of Anne Lincoln, an assistant sociology professor at Southern Methodist University, whose study of the changing face of veterinary medicine is the first to look at gender in college applications from 1975 to 1995. Lincoln used decades of surveys and application information shared by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges in her recently published study, "The Shifting Supply of Men and Women to Occupations: Feminization in Veterinary Education," in the journal Social Forces.

In addition to men's "preemptive flight" from female-dominated colleges, Lincoln also attributes veterinary medicine's gender shift to women's higher graduation rates from college as well as the landmark 1972 federal amendment that prohibited discrimination by gender in college applications. Women have been enrolling in college in greater numbers since 1972, according to Lincoln.

In her study, Lincoln controlled for class size, percentage of women on faculty and in the classroom, increased tuition, and declines in veterinary medicine's average salary, and found that none of those factors were statistically significant in explaining why more women than men were applying.

Instead, Lincoln attributes the change in the veterinary profession's gender to the "preemptive flight" of men, who may be uncomfortable with the fact that veterinary medicine is dominated by women or see a much larger proportion of women on veterinary college campuses during school visits.

Lincoln says the evidence proves false the notion that women enter less lucrative fields, like veterinary medicine, because their husbands can support them with larger salaries. Men and women seem equally affected by salary and tuition concerns, she says.

Of course, with growing numbers of female graduates, veterinary medicine isn't the only field in for a gender shift. Based on current application and enrollment data, Lincoln says medicine and law—traditionally male-dominated fields—will follow veterinary medicine's lead in the next 20 to 30 years.