STEM PhDs With Disabilities Earn Less, Hold Fewer Leadership Roles

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A recent study by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers highlights significant financial and professional obstacles faced by PhD graduates with disabilities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields in academia. Despite their advanced degrees, these individuals are often underpaid and underrepresented in higher academic ranks.

Analyzing data from 1.15 million U.S. STEM PhDs between 1973 and 2017, including 704,013 actively working in the field, the study found a consistent pay disparity. STEM PhD holders with disabilities earn, on average, $10,580 less annually across all sectors and $14,360 less in academic settings compared to those without disabilities. Additionally, there is a notable scarcity of individuals with disabilities in senior faculty roles, such as deans or presidents, and in tenured positions.

Previous studies have highlighted pay and representation gaps in STEM fields for women and racially underrepresented individuals, along with higher unemployment rates among scientists and engineers with disabilities compared to the general labor force. However, until recently, there has been a lack of specific data regarding disparities faced by STEM doctoral recipients with disabilities.

“We’re identifying the barriers to inclusion so we can dismantle them,” said Bonnielin Swenor, an author of the study and professor at JHU School of Nursing, in a news release. “Combating the disparities will take structural transformation.”