Female students now represent the majority of undergraduate students in the United States, according to a report released this month by the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the report, women made up 56 percent of all undergraduates in 2001 -- a marked increase from 42 percent in 1970.

Projections to 2013 indicate that female undergraduate enrollment will increase to 8.9 million, or 57 percent of the undergraduate population.

Barbara Gault, director of research at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, said the information in the report is not surprising.

She cited the feminist movement, the entry of women into the labor force over the last four decades and a shift in family earning power as reasons for this significant increase.

However, scholars have been unable to reach a consensus on the reasons behind the trend.

"In 1982, women caught up to men in attaining bachelor's degrees and have been inching ahead ever since," Sociology professor Jerry Jacobs said.

The gender breakdown of Penn's School of Arts and Sciences almost perfectly mirrors the report's findings: Women make up 55.6 percent of the population.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science is 29.6 percent female, above the national average of 20 percent for undergraduate engineering schools.

According to Engineering Director of Academic Affairs Joseph Sun, Penn has a higher percentage of female engineers than most comparable schools because of dual-degree programs and a well-rounded academic experience.

And although the undergraduate Wharton School is 36 percent female, officials say they are crafting initiatives to lure more female applicants.

"The percentage mirrors the number of women who apply to business schools- -- it is significantly less than the number of women who apply to arts and sciences," said Suzanne Depuyt, director of undergraduate student services and administration at the Wharton School.

Many see the issue as not only how many women are enrolled in the University, but also what fields they choose to go into.

Demie Kurz, co-director of the Women's Studies Program, listed business as well as math and science as disciplines that need to open their doors to women.

"It is important to have programs with undergraduates to communicate that all fields are welcoming to women," Kurz said.

"For women to get to top positions in their field is still a challenge," Kurz said, adding that the increased number of female undergraduates could place pressure on faculty to increase female representation.

Gault agreed. "There is an enormous amount of gender disparity in the fields that men and women go into," she said.

"Even though overall, women have caught up in terms of their access to undergraduate education, the next frontier must be to make all frontiers accessible to them," she added.

Tipping the scales

The proportion of female undergraduates has increased. - 1970: 42.3% - 1980: 52.3% - 1990: 55.0% - 2000: 56.1% - 2013: 57.0%* *ProjectedSource: National Center for Education Statistics

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