What Are the Explanations for the Leaky Pipeline?

28.11.2023 - 13:45 bis 15:15
Online only (via Zoom)
Art der Veranstaltung: 
AB A-Kolloquium
Katja Rost
Zugehörigkeit des Vortragenden: 
Universität Zürich

Please contact us at mzes-colloquia-a [at] uni-mannheim.de to request the Zoom link.


In most European universities today, the overall share of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women is more than 50%, but for full professorships, this drops to about 25%. This phenomenon is called the leaky pipeline. Most explanations refer to gender norms, motherhood, implicit or explicit sexism, and tokenism. We take a novel approach, comparing the leaky pipeline across various fields of study in the two largest Swiss universities. We start with Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s token hypothesis, which is that women suffer from their minority position. According to this hypothesis, it is expected that the higher women’s share of positions in a field of study is, the less pronounced the leaky pipeline. In contrast, the self-selection hypothesis and the status group hypothesis should lead to different expectations: The higher women’s share of a field of study is, the more pronounced the leaky pipeline. Our data clearly refute the token hypothesis. To test the second and third hypothesis, we conduct a representative survey at two Swiss universities. We find strong evidence for self-selection effects but no discrimination according to a status group effect. Most importantly, we show that men and women in different fields of study have different career motivations, family aspirations, and resources. They shape their career and family dynamics, and thus the leaky pipeline differs across disciplines. These dynamics are reinforced by partner choice, as women in female-dominated fields tend to match with men in male-dominated fields, and vice versa. Our findings may explain why many of the current measures to mitigate the leaky pipeline, in particular quotas, are not effective. This outcome does not deny that there are broader, systemic factors that impede women´s advancement in academia, which are beyond the university's control.