The Major Racial Shortfall in Earned Doctorates in Scientific Fields

The number of blacks earning doctorates reached an all-time high in 2008. But whites continue to be far more likely than blacks to earn doctorates in the natural sciences such as physics and chemistry. In 2008, 13.7 percent of doctorates awarded to whites were in the physical sciences. This is more than double the percentage for African Americans, which stood at 6.4 percent in 2008.

The very large racial Ph.D. gap in the natural sciences is striking when we examine black Ph.D. awards in specific disciplines. African Americans earned only 30 doctorates in mathematics. This was just 2.1 percent of all doctorates awarded in the field by U.S. universities.

In a major weakness, blacks earned only 15 degrees, or less than 1 percent, of the more than 1,500 doctorates in physics. In computer science, blacks won 1.5 percent of all Ph.D. awards. In chemistry, only 2.2 percent of Ph.D.s went to blacks. In 2008, 192 African Americans were awarded a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. But they were only 2.5 percent of all doctorates awarded in the discipline.