The powerpoint (you-tube-ized) from my talk a couple of days ago is here. I presupposed a picture of female attrition that I'm now less sure of. Based on this graph from "Gender and Philosophical Intuition" (Buckwalter and Stich), I assumed women are less attracted to philosophy classes starting very early on.
Then there's also attrition after the undergraduate course series. You see it on the right in the graph above, but also in the figure below, from a paper about women in philosophy in the UK (Beebee and Saul).
The reason why the left side of the first graph seemed important is that it suggests something is going on in the lowest level undergraduate classes on up to drive away women, or at least attract men more than women. Buckwalter and Stich claim one factor is that philosophy classes are highly intuition-driven, and male students find their intuitions in synch with the instructor's more often than female students.
My colleague Justin points out that the pattern on the left side of the first graph could actually just be due to the fact that male and female have the same course requirements. If all have to take one lower level philosophy class (or even if they have a choice of philosophy or something else), lower level philosophy classes are bound to be more gender balanced.
That's significant, because attrition at the lowest levels would have pointed to there being something about the classes themselves that attracts men or repels women. Attrition at the higher levels doesn't point so unambiguously to the classes themselves as attracting or repelling, since now there's a new factor--the way males and females view choosing philosophy as a major and pursuing it as a career. If we're explaining later attrition, the intuitions-out-of-synch theory starts to have a lot more competition.
Which makes me think about philosophy as a career choice, and how that looks to men and women. Philosophers spend most of their time on their own, thinking intensely, addressing huge questions, coming up with their own rigorously supported answers, but with the awareness that general acceptance is unlikely, and that people will keep addressing the questions for hundreds of years, as they already have for thousands of years. There is something just a little Sisyphean about the whole endeavor, and is that more troubling for women than for men? I would at least throw it in the basket with various other hypotheses.
picture credit: http://christinelebrasseur.blogspot.com/