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heterodox: the blog

Research Summary

Data on How Ideological (Under)Representation Compares to (Under)Representation Along the Lines of Race, Gender or Sexuality

Musa al-Gharbi March 29, 2018

Heterodox Academy strives to promote open inquiry, constructive disagreement, and viewpoint diversity in institutions of higher learning – and especially within social research fields.

This mission includes promoting diversity in terms of the oft-discussed categories of race, gender and sexuality – as well as the less-discussed (but also pressing) lack of diversity along the lines of class and geography — and of course, the intersections between these categories.

However, up to now many of our efforts have concentrated on the issue of ideological diversity in institutions of higher learning. There are a few reasons for this.

First, there is general social agreement that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality or race is wrong. However, many in the academy believe it is acceptable or even desirable to exclude non-progressive perspectives. In fact, while noteworthy progress has been made since the 90’s in terms of representation for women and ethnic or racial minority groups, the ideological underrepresentation problem is actually growing worse.

We were concerned about these trends primarily because the lack of ideological diversity seemed to be undermining the quality and impact of social research. Therefore, much of our initial labor was to help our colleagues recognize that the lack of ideological diversity is a real problem, and to commit themselves to being part of the solution.

However, a question has come up time and again regarding the relative scale of these challenges: how does the lack of, say, political diversity measure up when compared to underrepresentation by race, gender or sexuality? To get at this question, we can compare rates of faculty identification across different identity measures.

Overrepresented Groups

  • With regards to race, research has shown that whites and Asians are overrepresented among tenured faculty.
  • In terms of gender, men are overrepresented among full-time tenured faculty, while women tend to be concentrated in adjunct or otherwise non-tenured positions.
  • Lesbians and gays are also overrepresented among faculty, especially in social research fields.
  • Non-Christian faiths (particularly Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus) tend to be overrepresented among faculty, but amount to relatively small numbers for both faculty and the general population. The religiously unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, religious “nones”) represent a much larger share and are significantly overrepresented as well.
  • Progressives are vastly overrepresented in the academy. According to the most comprehensive study on faculty political leanings to date (Gross & Simmons 2014), progressives outnumber conservatives by 10:1 in the humanities and social sciences, despite the fact that conservatives outnumber liberals in the general U.S. population (and pretty much always have).
  • While we are not able to directly compare the socioeconomic backgrounds of faculty, we can reasonably infer from information about graduate school completion and school placement rates (see here then here)  that faculty are disproportionately likely to come from families in the upper quartile of income.
  • We can similarly infer that faculty are likely to hail from cities and the suburbs over towns or rural areas… particularly from metropolitan areas along the West Coast or the Northeast Corridor running from Boston through Washington D.C. (see herehereherehere for more data on geographical disparities in higher ed).

Comparing Underrepresentation Rates

In order to more easily compare levels of underrepresentation among groups, we can create a common representation quotient by dividing the percentage of representation each group has among full-time faculty divided by the share these groups comprise of the total U.S. population.

On this scale, approaching “1” would signal parity between representation in the academy v. the broader society. Exceeding “1” would indicate overrepresentation, while approaching “0” would indicate severe underrepresentation. In descending order, the breakdown is as follows:

Group Share of the U.S. Professoriate Percentage of the U.S. Population Representation Quotient Source(s)
Non-Christian Faiths 13 6 2.17 Gross & Simmons 2009Pew 2014
Asians &
Pacific Islanders
11 6 1.83 U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016
Liberals 44 26[*] 1.69 Gross & Simmons 2014Gallup 2018
Religiously Unaffiliated 31 23 1.35 Gross & Simmons 2009Pew 2014
Whites 75 61 1.23 U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016
Men 59 49 1.2 U.S. Census Bureau, Steiger 2013
Women 41 51 0.8 U.S. Census Bureau, Steiger 2013
Christians 53 71 0.75 Gross & Simmons 2009Pew 2014
Blacks 5 13 0.38 U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016
Conservatives 9 35 0.26 Gross & Simmons 2014Gallup 2018
Hispanics 4 18 0.22 U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016

And so, if we were to visualize the over/under representation (with “0” indicating parity), it would look something like this:

This is the picture for U.S. colleges and universities overall. However, if we restrict our analysis to social science fields, the dynamic changes significantly:

Group Share of the U.S. Social Science Professoriate Percentage of the U.S. Population Representation Quotient Source(s)
Liberals 58 26[*] 2.23 Gross & Simmons 2014Gallup 2018
Atheist/ Agnostic 39 23 1.7 Gross & Simmons 2009Pew 2014
Whites 81 61 1.33 U.S. Census BureauNational Science Foundation
Asians &
Pacific Islanders
7 6 1.17 U.S. Census BureauNational Science Foundation
Men 50 49 1.02 U.S. Census BureauGinther & Khan 2015
Women 50 51 0.98 U.S. Census BureauGinther & Khan 2015
Blacks 5 13 0.38 U.S. Census BureauNational Science Foundation
Hispanics 4 18 0.22 U.S. Census BureauNational Science Foundation
Conservatives 5 35 0.14 Gross & Simmons 2014Gallup 2018


Looking at underrepresented groups: Women are even closer to parity in social research fields than in most other academic sectors. And while blacks and Hispanics are severely underrepresented among full-time faculty in the academy writ large, those faculty that are black and/or Hispanic tend to be heavily concentrated in social research fields (at the expense of STEM fields). However, there also happen to be more faculty employed in social research than most other occupational fields. Therefore, the representation quotients for blacks and Hispanics remain roughly unchanged, regardless of whether we are talking about social research fields in particular, or U.S. institutions of higher learning overall. While Asians remain overrepresented in social research fields, they are less-so than whites.

The non-religious are concentrated even more heavily in social research fields than the academy overall.

Finally, there is a significant downward shift in levels of political diversity when we restrict our analysis to social research fields. Liberals are hugely overrepresented: more than twice as common among social scientists as they are in the general population. Meanwhile, the representation quotient for conservatives in social science fields is 0.14, which is significantly lower than any other major population group measured. In other words, the lack of ideological diversity seems to be vastly more pronounced in social research fields than underrepresentation in terms of gender, sexuality, and race.

Research suggests these disparities are even greater within campus administrations: “It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.”

Of course, particular institutions need not, as a rule, strive for perfect parity with the general population along any demographic or ideological dimension. After all, under (or over) representation is often a result of selection effects. However, underrepresentation becomes worrisome under two conditions. One is a hostile environment and/or active discrimination. The other is if insufficient input from certain constituencies lowers research quality and impact. Unfortunately, both of these conditions seem to be present in the case of ideological representation within the academy: There is evidence of active discrimination against conservatives (and more broadly, a suppression of views that defy prevailing orthodoxies), and this does undermine the accuracy and effectiveness of social research.

For further reflections on the moral and practical considerations of this data, see my essay in the latest issue of Times Higher Education, “If conservative views are not represented in social research, leftists will suffer most.”

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