10 Weird Outcomes Caused by more Women than Men Attending College
The college attendance gender gap has shifted and it is growing fast. For decades, twice as many men as women graduated with bachelor’s degrees. Women not only caught up to men in the 1980s, they started to statistically pass them by. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, thirty years later, more than half (57%) of college students are women. More women (one-third of those enrolled) are also completing their bachelor’s degrees than are men.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) members, including the US, have seen the college enrollment and graduation gender gap reverse itself in
nearly all of their 34 participating democratic countries. OECD members meet, discuss, and determine social and economic policies applicable in free market economies. Using this data, they analyze why there are more women undergraduates than men.
By 2002, fifteen of the 17 OECD countries having consistent post-secondary higher-education (France, Portugal, Sweden, US, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Spain, and UK), reported that women outnumbered men. Only Turkey and Switzerland had OECD statistic ratio of male-to-female higher education enrollment greater than one, with a declining gender gap.
US college trends indicating women have caught up to, and surpassed, men are consistent with this global pattern of change. It has had a socio-economic impact on the nations where it is occurring. However, this trend may also be traced to socio-economic events, such as changes in employment and labor force, family structure and income, and globalization as well as political/education focus.
10Worldwide Gender Biases, Inequalities, and Attitudes
No country has successfully managed to get their male and female students to a state of equal proficiency in reading and math in secondary school in preparation for post-secondary curriculum. Although South American countries (Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Mexico) enable male students to succeed, there is a smaller gap between males and females in reading than in other countries. Not surprisingly, however, is the significantly wider than average math skills gap between males and females (favoring male students). Conversely, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, facilitate female students’ math skills, making them equal with their male counterparts. The reading skills gap, which consistently throughout the world favors female students, still leaves males behind.
The growing shift in the college academic gender gap generates opposing explanations. Political agendas have proposed favoritism and bias and a “war against boys.” Many experts reject the claims that increased academic and resultant economic gains have been made by women at the expense of men (winners v. losers). Just as many contend that resources and attention given to boys/men result in restricted academic, and future economic gain, for women. There are further assertions that women professors favor their gender students. This parallels male bosses favoring male subordinates. It further reports that students that are polite, enthusiastic, assertive, and less agitating, which are traits generally attributed to girls/women students, tend to be graded more favorably.
The growing gender gap in college enrollment shows significant impact (women outpacing men) among Hispanics and blacks as well. Approximately half of all Hispanic and black students immediately enrolled in college following graduation in 1994. More black men than black women enrolled in college. By 2012 the trend reversed. Overall college enrollment increased. Fifty-percent of black men still enrolled, but there was a 13% increase and gap as 69% of black women enrolled. Comparably, 62% of young white men and 76% of young white women enrolled in college immediately after graduation. There has been a less-dramatic shift among Asian Americans. Post-high school enrollment grew for both women and men, but the gap is significantly smaller.
Childhood poverty and the increase in single female-headed households in the US susceptibly contribute to the increase in children being placed at a potential and future economic disadvantage from an early age. This is most apparent in the relationship between household income and financial resources and educational attainment. However, although growing up in a single-parent home appears to decrease the economic accessibility and probability of college attendance for boys, it does not appear to have a similar impact for girls.
The correlation between family income, college enrollment, and college graduation may be illustrated by comparing late Baby Boomer groups (born 1961 – 1964) and early Millennials (born 1979 – 1982). There was a positive relationship between (higher) household income and (increased) college attainment within the Baby Boomer group. Children of the highest family incomes were 40% more likely to attend college and 30% more likely to complete college, than those of the lowest family incomes during the same period.
Gaps in college enrollment and college graduation between highest and lowest Baby Boom and Millennial income groups have sharply increased (i.e.: Boomers to 50% from 40% and 45% from 30% respectively). Although actual income availability and college attainment disparities do not readily appear until early adulthood, underlying deficiencies in academic preparedness become apparent sooner through standardized reading test results. Among the Boomers, the test achievement gap between children of high and low income households was a standard deviation of 0.85. Forty years later, this income-achievement gap has increased 40% to 1.20 standard deviations among those born in 2000. These vastly increasing achievement discrepancies between children of high/low-income households suggest that money matters as time goes on. Education also promotes intergenerational economic mobility. Higher income parents are typically better educated and academically as well as economically influence their children (promoting a desire to acquire post-secondary education).
The emerging academic gender gap can be explained in part by the changes in population, attitudes (a higher non-marital birthrate), and household/family structures about 18 years prior. Domestic change and instability puts boys and young men at risk for reduced academic achievement and opportunities to obtain stable employment at wages as a result.
But, before gender and family-structure differences in college graduation became apparent, differences in academic performance and behavior between boys and girls in elementary school was recorded. The difference was greatest among children from fatherless homes. Children are more likely to succeed at school and socio-economically when they have stability and married parents. An absent father appears to hurt boys more than girls, giving the girls some advantage in academia.
Male children raised in single-parent households, tend not to do well academically. Most heads of household are female, which provides a role model for girls, leaving boys with a void. Data indicates females have an advantage in college completion (10% to 14%) when their mother has some college education, and when the father is less educated, or absent. Boys and girls are equally likely to complete college when the father is highly-educated and present in the household. Similarly, both boys and girls are likely to complete college when the mother and father both have some college education.
Women that particularly come from low-income and working-class communities are viewed as the more stable achievers. Boys whose father is absent tend to do poorly. As time progresses, both boys and girls may see males as having less aptitude or desire for higher education and a lower level of achievement.
7The Value of Marriage
Having children early and outside of marriage has become most common among those that have less education. Developing a stable marriage and having children has become less attractive. The strategy better-educated men and women adopt instead involves delaying marriage and childbearing until (undergrad and graduate) schooling is completed and careers have been well-established.
An all but depleted male labor market has offered few opportunities for economic well-being, including dreams of marriage and children, for less-educated men. Although they are less likely (than highly-educated men) to marry, they are just as likely to have children. Children of less-educated men are less likely to live in economically-secure households (with both parents), however. They are also more likely to encounter poorer educational opportunities and earnings prospects over the long term.
Men and women tend to inconsistently cohabit and marry within their own education and race groups. Improving labor opportunities for women have influenced their decision (not) to marry. Increased levels of education, reduced discrimination, and more demand for interpersonal and cognitive skills make it more feasible for single women to be primary child caregivers as well as primary bread-winners. Marriage rates have decreased for the least-educated women and have risen among college-educated women, however, which is contrary to the female self-sufficiency argument.
A well-compensated, long-term career is the goal of obtaining higher education. It is also considered a symptom of the declining marriage rates. While earnings capacity of low-education males decline, women have increasingly invested in market skills. Conclusively, the decline in marriage rates may be attributed to the falling earnings power of non-college males, but it may not necessarily be attributed to the consistent increase in women’s earnings. Likely it is because college educated women choose not to marry men who did not go to college. And there is shortage of college educated men. Many college educated women will not find a college educated mate.
The emerging gender gap in education is partly due to changes in the family structure. Parents’ financial stability affords more opportunities for their children. Single-head-of-household environments tend to be less financially well-off. Often the head of single-parent households is less educated and/or has less resources to provide growth experiences that stimulate the child (i.e.: zoos, museums, galleries, planetariums, music events or lessons, etc.). As a result of reduced social and cultural exposure and experiences that instill curiosity, fewer men graduate and fewer still immediately go to college from high school. Many cannot afford higher education and question the value of a college education. Rather than commit to student loans and long term debt, they opt to enter the workforce or the military that offers post-secondary financial benefits.
Parents that are more-highly educated have more time and income to invest in pre-school and child-care activities that offer children more experiences. In the last 20 years, however, while parents have become more educated and income for them has risen, it has not been proved that financial stability has been any more effective in getting young men from wealthier households back into, and completing, higher education. Autor and Wasserman (Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education) state that, “If boys are more responsive to parental inputs (or the absence thereof) than are girls, then it is possible that the gender gradient in behavioral and academic development could be magnified in single-parent households.”
5Earnings and Wages
Economists report that the rapid narrowing of the earnings gender gap over the last 30 years is closely related to the increase in men and women returning to higher education to acquire, finish attaining, or upgrading their knowledge and skills levels. Rates of women pursuing higher education exceed the equivalent pursuit by men.
Earnings help determine the quality of living and stability. Declining earnings is directly proportionate to decreases in employment-to-population rates. The opposite is also true: employment-to-population rates increase with earnings growth. Education is an increasingly important determinant of lifetime income and stability. It is doubly important since earnings and employment prospects for less-educated US workers have significantly depreciated over the last thirty years. The stagnation of (male) educational attainment has not improved the well-being of US males of different races, incomes, and households. Low employment and earnings opportunities for all low-educated men (whites and minorities) also lead to poor health, a higher probability they will be incarcerated at some point, or just a generally dissatisfaction with life.
Real earnings growth for men in the US has been weak. Men with less than a four-year college degree have seen a 5% to 25% decline in their earnings. The steepest declines have been for men under 40 years of age with a high school, or lower, education. Men with four or more years of college are the employees that have seen real earnings growth in the past three decades.
Earnings growth for women has been better in all areas. Highly-educated women have made the most gains. Trends are positive, even for younger women without any college education. With the exception of young high school dropouts, 7 out of 8 females enjoy growth earnings.
The decline in the gender earnings gap may be collectively attributed to progress, the college attendance gap, women’s advances, and males’ declines. Women have increasingly entered skilled professional, managerial, and technical fields. There has been a significant shift from traditional female-dominated occupations (i.e.: teaching and nursing). Earnings gaps have increased the most for college graduates.
4Labor Market and Occupation
The labor and occupation market impact on the emerging education gender gap primarily revolves around technological change, the decline in unions, and globalization. Technological change has and made it more attractive to send manufacturing offshore. Previously unionized jobs are now paying less than when they were at their peak, when they were primarily comprised of men.
Marriage has lost most of its economic value to women. Well-educated women in particular conclude they can raise a child without a (long-term) partner, although this is most apparent at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Men’s wages are routinely lower or there is no male in the household, and the incarceration rates among young men are extremely high.
There has been a significant decline in female employment in task-intensive, middle-skill and mid-wage jobs that has been mainstay employment over three decades. The sharp declines in these jobs, however, have been offset by an increase in women employed in technical, high-skill professional and managerial jobs. There has been an approximate 66% decline in mid-level employment for women under 40 years old. This has been offset by an increase in high-wage occupations and employment. Statistics are higher for women over 40 years old. However, men have not adapted to the new technology, managerial labor market as successfully as women.
The employment decline in blue-collar jobs among younger men has been offset by increases in service occupations employment. Less than 25% are employed in technical, professional, and managerial occupations. Older men (above the age of 40) see a more favorable, but still substantially lower rate of employment in these areas than their female counterparts. However, approximately two-thirds of the loss of mid-skill jobs by older men is offset by an increase in professional, technical, and managerial employment. This is in contrast to the full offset among women in similar age groups.
3The Recession and Economic Progress
The Great Recession is occurred between 2007 and 2010. Due to its magnitude, the employment-to-population rate fell for all education and gender groups during that period. Statistics show the most significant declines affected men with high-school or lower educations. More moderate declines were experienced by men that had post-secondary education. In contrast, employment increased for women at all education levels (except for high school dropouts). The most significant increases were, of course, among college-educated women (those with some college or a four-year degree). Declines were greater for men than for women at every education level except those with post-secondary education.
Events during the recession put the spotlight on men shown to experience slowing economic progress and recovery during the period. Studies were conducted, asking, 1) why educational attainment for men slowed so drastically over the last 40 years when college enrollment and four-year college degree attainment among women mushroomed, 2) why there was a decrease in employed non-college educated men, and 3) why real earnings fell for non-college educated men but not for women of the same age and education levels.
Although educational attainment among men slowed, it did not, by itself, result in slowing earnings growth. Studies show that employment and earnings changes were not driven by changes in the available supply of qualified labor in the market, but rather by employers’ labor needs and demand for specific skills and occupational specialties.
Globalization tends to increase one nation’s economic gains at the expense of other nation(s). Information and communication technologies have changed US job demand while aiding globalized production. Firms have increasingly found it more cost-effective to source and monitor production processes at locations worldwide. As a result, competition and revenue are increased, but manufacturing and skilled, but low-educated, job market is eroding. This is particularly applicable for unionized plants and factories. It also reduces the unions’ ability to successfully negotiate favorable contracts for its dwindling member base.
Recently it has become apparent that these global technological and organizational changes have raised the productivity, demand, and earnings levels of women in relation to men. Physically demanding and repetitive tasks are no longer required and more workers are returning to college to acquire, finish, or upgrade their level of education and skills. Highly-educated women possess the desired combination of cognitive and interpersonal skills necessary in information and technology work environments.
The increasing skill premium and declining gender gaps are apparent globally. US cities that experienced the biggest increase in the college/high-school earnings premium (1980 – 2000) also saw a significant decline in the male-female wage differential. This suggests that, the wage decrease among non-college educated men is partly driven by the same (global) demand-side energy that has increased premium wages and positions to those that are college-educated.
Automation (even more than outsourcing) has all but eliminated low-skill jobs. Technology has made it easier for a company to operate anywhere in the world at any time. These factors have put US workers in direct competition with others around the world. The economy has not only become global, but also knowledge-based. Between 1969 and 1999 blue-collar and administrative jobs decreased from 56% to 39%. Managerial, professional, and technical jobs increased from 23% to 33% during the same time. Advancements in global education have made high school graduation the standard in most industrialized countries. The top-earning positions, however, still go to the highly-educated labor force.
Although the academic gender gap is widening in favor of the ladies, women choosing “non-traditional” (STEM) career paths must work exceptionally harder (often twice as hard) than their male counterparts to gain the same academic, professional, and career opportunities. Once in the door, they have to continue to perform above the standard. In an effort to compete in the global economy, the US has found it is imperative to equip the youth of the nation with skills and knowledge to collect and analyze data, and evaluate the informational results to solve tough problems. These analytical tools are obtained through mathematics and the sciences, technology and engineering.
To be competitive in the world, one must become proficient in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. The program runs from pre-school through 12th grade. It is intended to enhance problem solving skills and provide opportunities and foundational tools necessary to succeed in technical career fields, for all students.
Girls and women have consistently excelled in verbal/reading skills. They have not been as successful, however, in matching boys and men in math and science. Many women and minority students lack the basic knowledge and skills necessary to actively pursue college-level science, technology, engineering, or math curriculum towards a desired career in those areas (i.e.: architecture, biologist, medical research, statistician, IT code, etc.). Between 2009 and 2013, approximately 22% of women (nationally) entered college to pursue STEM fields. Only 9% of them actually earned a STEM degree.
Even with opportunities offered through STEM, gender bias remains a factor in colleges and the workplace. Gender stereotypes and biases result in rejected resumes or an unfair assignment of mentors and lab opportunities. A Yale University study revealed that, upon review of (hypothetical) resumes, which all listed similar qualifications, US science professors rated female candidates as less competent than the male candidates. The professors indicated they would be less inclined to hire the female applicants, and if they did, they would probably offer the women lower salaries and fewer mentoring opportunities.
Self confidence can become another stumbling block. Women students that do not have support from family, friends, or mentors may feel inadequate in STEM fields. They are more likely to abandon their dream/goal. A sense of belonging predicts greater confidence in one’s STEM abilities. In an all-female environment (women’s colleges), gender biases do not affect the allocation of resources, mentors, and opportunities. The STEM faculty must mentor women and provide opportunities and labs. All-female STEM departments provide a natural sense of belonging and female role models and work groups.
STEM is particularly necessary to enable girls and women to compete in the world as economically and professionally. Although the STEM program is for all students, as attention has focused on girls and women, and they have successfully surged ahead, some now argue that the boys and men are being left behind! There has been some evidence of a developing reverse gender gap surfacing as early as kindergarten. When analyzed more closely, the disparity appears to lie in behavior or immaturity than attention being focused in a certain direction.
For example, the US Department of Education reports that, boys incur 71% of school suspensions; comprise 67% of special education classes; are 5-times more likely (than girls) to be identified as hyperactive; and 30% more likely to fail classes or drop out of school. Boys more often than girls are held back a grade due to behavior/immaturity issues.
Social and economic challenges are a result of the widening gender gaps in educational attainment and labor market. Higher education provides a means of securing stability and financial security. It is more valuable now than ever due to the rapid decrease in employment and earnings prospects in physical, blue-collar, unionized environments. Technology and automation have also made it imperative to acquire post-secondary education and skills to compete in technical, professional, and managerial fields within the global economy.
Lack of (male) education attainment, especially among minorities and those in low-income households, creates an environment that has fewer employment opportunities, lower wages, an increased risk of incarceration and poor health, and general dissatisfaction with life.
The effects of stagnating male educational attainment and the reduction in low-education (blue-collar) labor market opportunities ripple and impact the well-being of children and partners. The disparity in educational attainment has resulted in lower marriage rates. Well-educated women, in particular, are becoming more self-sufficient and not marrying. Although less-educated males are not marrying either, they are having children, which often live in low-income single – (female) parent households. These children, in turn, lack educational opportunities and earnings in the the long term. Female children tend to do better living with a same-sex (single) parent. Male children, however, tend to grow up drifting without a male role model present. Left unchecked, this can become a vicious cycle and continue or exasperate the college attendance gender gap, long term.