I, for one, welcome our new female overlords in Archaeology

Posted on October 24, 2013


Archaeology, it’s a women’s world. Ok, slight exaggeration but not by too much. For years there has been concern about the male domination of archaeology, especially when other professions quickly gained more equal gender ratios following the women’s rights movement and archaeology did not. The latest Profiling the Profession report (which I will be posting on for the next few weeks) has some very good news on that front. The female to male ratio of UK archaeologists is just a hairs width away from matching the UK working average (slightly more men than women work in the UK) .

Gender ratio from Profiling the Profession reports

Gender ratio from Profiling the Profession reports

These averages are actually hiding a fairly significant generational trend in gender ratios. Younger generations tend to be dominated by those of the female persuasion.  If these numbers hold then archaeology may soon become a female dominated profession.

1997/98 2002/03 2007/08 2012/13
Male 20-29 Male 58% 49% 47% 35%
30-39 Male 63% 66% 60% 47%
40-49 Male 71% 71% 65% 62%
50-59 Male 68% 71% 68% 64%
60+ Male 70% 73% 68% 64%
Female 20-29 Female 42% 51% 53% 65%
30-39 Female 37% 34% 40% 53%
40-49 Female 29% 29% 35% 38%
50-59 Female 32% 29% 32% 36%
60+ Female 30% 27% 32% 36%

Table 1: Gender by age group of UK archaeologists

Guarded Cheer

Of course there is concerned about the dreaded family ceiling. That is people drop out of archaeology when they want to have a family.  I say people because it is not just women but men too. Though, the common belief is it hurts women more because of pregnancy issues and field work don’t mix too well. This surge in women workers in the younger generations has been noticed for some time now. However, given that the data is collected by decades we still have to wait and see if there is any sort of ceiling in the late 30s to earlier 40s age range for women. Most likely we will know until the next Profiling the Profession report in 5 years.

There is of course the issue of pay as well. It would appear that women earn less BUT when you take into account the generational effect e.g. old people tend to have more experience and thus higher paying jobs. Thus if older generations are dominated by men  then it is not surprising that it appears that men make more.  Though when we look at generational pay we see that younger women, who outnumber men in their age group, make just as much as men, in some cases more. Again, we will probably have to wait a few years to confirm that nothing happens as women get older.

Average wages for archaeologists by gender and age

Average wages for archaeologists by gender and age

So all tentatively good new for women  my future bosses in archaeology.

North America Women

A few years back I wrote an article with data I had that saw similar trends in North American archaeology. It was based on a sample of archaeologists in New Mexico and was compared against the gender trends from The American Archaeologists: a profile project. It actually showed that, at least in New Mexico, the younger generations were more heavily skewed towards women then predicted. It is possible in a few decades we might be discussing the “lack of men” problem in archaeology. I will be the first to admit that this US data is not as strong as I would like it. Hopefully, some future project will be able to double check this but it looks like archaeology in North America is following the same trends.

I, for one, welcome our new female overlords in Archaeology.