Major gender gap in history tripos

Jenny Steinitz 9 February 2015

Statistics from last year’s History Tripos results reveal that 91% of Firsts in Part I went to male candidates, with only 2 out 23 Firsts going to female candidates.  This is despite the fact that there were almost an equal number of women taking the Part I exams as men.

Although last year’s statistics are particularly dramatic, recent statistics seem to suggest that high discrepancies between male and female results in Part I of the History Tripos are a recurring trend.  For the last 4 years, the proportion of firsts going to female candidates has varied between 25% and 36%. 

The problem goes beyond the last four years however, with internal reports from over 25 years ago suggesting that the History Tripos had a serious gender problem.

However, the gap in results does seem to close to some extent in Part II of the Tripos. In 2014, for instance, Part II of the Tripos saw an exactly equal gender breakdown in the number of Firsts. It is currently unclear why this is the place. One second-year male historian, who wishes to remain anonymous, speculated that it was because of the lack of "exam bias" in Part II: "At an anecdotal level, I've always found exams pretty easy, yet many of my female friends prefer coursework. Perhaps the existence of the dissertation and special subject in Part II, by changing the exam-coursework ratio, makes the course more favourable to female students."

He added: "Saying that, it would be good to see some hard evidence so we have a better idea of what's really going on."

Academic Secretary to the History Faculty, Dr Magnus Ryan, commented:  “The History Faculty is keeping the matter under close surveillance and has been conducting detailed enquiries.”

The History Faculty’s Gender Working Party will be meeting on Friday 13th February to discuss the issue further.

A second year female historian, who also wished to remain anonymous, commented: "It is disappointing that although the History tripos has almost equal numbers of male and female candidates, there are still huge disparities between the highest marks awarded. Despite increasing attention being given to the participation of women in STEM subjects, in History, and potentially other Arts subjects, there is still a gender bias when equality in numbers is achieved at admission."