FEMALE PHYSICISTS IN FINLAND A. Penttilä1, H. Aksela1, U. Lähteenmäki2 and J. Koponen3 1 Department of Physical Sciences, P.O. Box 3000, 90014 University of Oulu, Finland 2 Centre for Metrology and Accreditation, P.O. Box 239, 00181 Helsinki, Finland 3 Department of Physics, P.O. Box 64, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
Situation is getting better The number of female physicists is very low, but slowly increasing in Finland. As Table 1 shows, the number of women awarded the first-level degree (M.Sc.) in physics is about 30 % despite the size of the annual variations. This is much more than in the 70’s, when there was only 10 % women graduating. Table 1 also shows that the portion of women continuing studies upto the highest-level degree (Ph.D.) is lower than that of men. The most important reason for this decrease might be setting up a family, when e.g. a teacher’s profession is thought to be easier and safer economically than a career as a scientist. After all, getting married and having a baby is a bigger change for a woman than for a man. A woman often follows her husband to a new town after his job and leaves her own job behind. Another reason ending a woman’s career as a scientist is the difficulties faced as a member of the minority. Maternity leave cannot be taken for granted and your family plans are always asked in a job interview. Despite the progress in the field of equality, prejudices still exist – more often among non-physicist, female co-workers. The fraction of women in other fields of natural sciences is much better than in physics. In the fields of biology or chemistry the minority is men, whereas in the fields of mathematics or geography the number of women is equal with men.
Problems originate from school Reasons for such a low portion of women studying physics can be looked for in the upper secondary schools. Pupils opinions on physics have been studied  and girls were found to consider physics as an obstacle more often than boys. Also the examples in the course books are more familiar to boys than to girls. In the study  physicists were found to be difficult to understand, theoretical, lonely workers, advanced in years and enthusiastic about their field. Physics itself was found to be mathematical, diagrammatic, laborious, hard to understand and experimental. Concepts like international, modern, logical or practical were not really connected to physics. These ideas might follow from a lack of knowledge – there are hardly any physicists known to the general public and even less so for female physicists - as can be seen in Table 2. Almost the only example of a physicist for pupils is the physics teacher in the school. In the study  the first physics teacher was found to have the most important effect on the desire to study (or not to study) physics in the future. The differences between universities can also been seen in Table 2. The universities founded more than hundred years ago (Helsinki, Turku) have more men in positions than the younger universities (Oulu, Jyväskylä). It is also worth mentioning that most of the professorships are occupied by soon to be retired men. The change of generation might be an opportunity for female physicist in Finland in a few years.  J.Häkkilä, M. Kärkäs, H. Aksela, V.Sunnari, T. Kylli, Girls, boys and physics. Opinions of upper secondary school pupils on physics as a subject. (1998)
Table 1. Degrees awarded in the universities of Helsinki, Oulu, Jyväskylä and Turku (1999 – 2001) *) We were not able to get any exact information from Turku. Annually there is less than 10 dissertations and the number of women is between 0 and 2. Table 2. Positions at the universities of Helsinki, Oulu, Turku and Jyväskylä
Facts about Finland People The population is around 5,18 million (estimated in 2001). The population density is low, only 17 persons per square kilometre. In 1998 women made up 48 % of the total work force of 2,5 million. Their average earnings were 81 % of average male earnings. Climate The climate is marked by cold winters and warm summers but temperatures in winter are moderated by the influence of the Baltic Sea and west winds from the Atlantic warmed by the Gulf Stream. Geography Long boundary with Russia; Helsinki is northernmost national capital on European continent; a quarter of its total area lies north of the Arctic Circle ; population concentrated on small southwestern coastal plain. Economy A typical advanced industrial economy. The net wealth of Finnish households is at the average level for member states of the European Union. Education All children receive compulsory basic education between the ages of 7 and 16. The literacy is 100 %. There are 21 universities or institutes of higher education, with a total student population of around 135 000, of whom 52 % are women. • University cities: • Helsinki • Turku • Oulu • Jyväskylä • Tampere • Kuopio • Joensuu • Rovaniemi • Vaasa