When was the last time you peered into the cockpit as you boarded a plane and saw a woman pilot? Never? That wouldn't be surprising. While the number of female pilots grew from 1960 to 1980, the upward trend came to an abrupt halt after that year. There were 9,966 women pilots in 1960 (including students), 52,902 in 1980 and just 36,808 in 2010. As of 2015, there were 140,000 Americans employed as pilots or flight engineers, 9.4 percent of whom were women. And if you drill down and look solely at commercial airline pilots, the figure plunges to just 5.1 percent [sources: BLS, Carsenat and Rossini, Goyer].
No one can say for sure why the number of female pilots remains so low or why prior progress halted. Some say it's due to the high cost of aviation lessons and planes, although that cost applies to both males and females equally. Others assert it has to do with society telling women that piloting is an occupation for men only. Another possibility is the flight-training environment which is aimed at young, mechanically inclined men [source: Goyer].
So, what about that boom in female pilots back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s? During that period, women were encouraged by society to try fields long dominated by men. But that message tapered off as the 1980s began. Further, while many occupations today are aggressively reaching out to women, aviation is not one of them. Perhaps all that's needed to change those numbers is a welcome mat [source: Goyer].