Widening the Net: National Estimates of Gender Disparities in Engineering


  • Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Program for Evaluation and Equity Research The Urban Institute
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    • Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen, acting director of the Program for Evaluation and Equity Research (PEER) of the Urban Institute, completed her graduate studies at Princeton University.

  • Nicole Deterding

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Sociology Harvard University
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    • Nicole Deterding, currently a sociology graduate student at Harvard University, collaborated in the research leading to this paper while working at PEER.

The Urban Institute, 2100 M. Street, NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20037; e-mail: cosentino@urban.org; telephone: (+1) 202.261.5409.

Harvard Ph.D. Programs in Social Policy, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.


This paper explores the causes behind the severe under-representation of women in engineering. Based on national data on undergraduate engineering programs, this study presents cross-sectional estimates of male and female student retention. Contrary to widespread beliefs, the study found that overall and in most disciplines there is no differential attrition by gender. Instead, results suggest that gender disparities in engineering are largely driven by inadequate enrollment (not inadequate retention) of women. The paper concludes that outreach—within institutions of higher education, across institutions (into two-year colleges, middle and high schools), and into K-12 curricular reform—are needed to address what is, at its very core, a recruitment problem.