5 Things You Should Know about the College Gender Gap
If you have been following education hot button issues for any length of time, you’ve likely read about the nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thought is that by showing young women that these topics are just as appropriate for them as their male peers, more women will find lasting careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields.
I’m all for more women in the STEM workplace but with all this focus in one area, are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue?
Nationally, over 57 percent of college attendees are female when public and private school stats are combined. Female students have been consistently edging ahead of their male classmates since the late 1970s when the percentages flip-flopped. Aside from all-female schools, there are others that have marked disproportionate numbers. Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena has nearly 96 percent females in attendance, and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis has over 93 percent. At Indiana University Northwest, located just outside Gary, 67 percent of the student population is female.
I’m glad women are becoming more and more educated, but the gender gap is problematic. Here are some things you should know about the college gender gap.
- The college gender gap is not an accident.
There are a few reasons why more young women than men are choosing a college education. The first is that there are more trades that do not require a college degree that appeal to men. The second is that economically speaking, women earn a better living with a college degree than without one in comparison to men. Though there is still a wage gap (in 2012, women earned just 80.9 percent of the salaries of their male counterparts), women see the value their earning potential can gain from achieving a college diploma.
I hear people asking this question all the time: What are K-12 educators doing wrong when it comes to preparing young women for STEM careers? It’s a valid one.
But based on the statistics I’ve listed here, shouldn’t we also be asking this question: What are K-12 educators doing when it comes to preparing young men for a college education?
- This can lead to financial trade-offs for men down the line.
It all comes down to the weight we assign to the worth of a college education. If a diploma is simply a way to earn more money over a lifetime, then perhaps men are doing the intelligent thing by launching into the workforce early and without student loan debt. That logic is flawed, however, when taking into account the fact that blue-collar jobs are declining in favor of white-collar ones. A young man making a lifelong career decision today simply cannot predict what educational demands will be placed on his field in another 10, 20 or 30 years.
- The educational disparity that results is bad for marriage.
Money aside, there are other pitfalls in a disproportionate number of men going to college. Statistics show that marriages where the couples have differing education levels more often end in divorce than couples with the same educational achievements. And even before divorce is an option, women who set college educational goals may not want to settle for men with less motivation – at least when it comes to academics. If this trend continues, social dynamics may be impacted.
- The path to the college gender gap begins before college.
According to Dr. Leonard Sax, too many boys are struggling in schools today. Sax proposes that five factors are responsible for the decline in school performance among boys: video games, prescription drugs, endocrine disruptors, devaluation of masculinity in popular culture, and teaching methods. Sax and many others believe that video games disengage boys from real-world pursuits. Mind-numbing keyboards and flashing images have a seductive effect on the brain. Medication for ADHD may be damaging motivational centers in boy’s brains, and the harmful effects of estrogens from food and plastic containers are upsetting the balance of boys’ endocrine systems. The athletic, scholarly male TV heroes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have been replaced with Bart Simpson. These and other shifts in modern culture are responsible for devaluing traditional masculine strengths. Additionally, Sax claims that the ways in which children are being educated today simply turn boys off from schooling.
Men who are completing a four year degree take longer than women to do so, and tend to socialize more in college, study less than women, and have poorer grades. The difference in male-female college/university enrollment reflects performance differences that are evident well before college attendance.
- Minority men fare even worse with this trend.
The problem escalates when race is taken into account. Recently, the Black Star Project published findings that just 10 percent of eighth-grade Black boys in the U.S. are considered “proficient” in reading. In urban areas like Chicago and Detroit, that number was even lower. By contrast, the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress found that 46 percent of white students are adequate readers by eighth grade, and 17 percent of Black students as a whole are too. The achievement gap between the two races is startling, but the difference between the NAEP report on Black students as a whole and the Black Star findings of just Black boys is troubling too. It is not simply Black children in general who appear to be failing in the basics – like literacy; it is the boys.
We must ask ourselves why boys and young men seem to be falling behind academically. More importantly, what steps need to be taken in order to reverse this trend?