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Women are in the lead

| Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “A Generation of American Men Give Up on College” and according to the findings reported by Douglas Belkin, the education gender gap is widening across the US. 

For years now, men have dominated the top positions in tech, finance, politics and entertainment while their female counterparts struggled to break the glass ceiling. For years now, men have appeared to always be a step (or more) ahead of women. Not this time around though. You see, the college education gap is indeed increasing but this time women are coming out ahead. Women are in the lead. Over the coming years, two women will earn a college degree for every man who does. American colleges and universities now enroll roughly six women for every four men. According to Common Application, a nonprofit that transmits applications to more than 900 schools, women even increased their lead over men in college applications for the 2021-22 school year — 3,805,978 to 2,815,810 — by nearly a percentage point compared with the previous academic year. 

In his piece for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that “the imbalance reveals a genuine shift in how men participate in education, the economy and society. The world has changed dramatically, but the ideology of masculinity isn’t changing fast enough to keep up.” 

“For decades, guys have been less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to enroll in college immediately and less likely to finish college and earn a diploma,” says Richard Reeves, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who is writing a book about men and boys in the economy. “There is a linear educational trajectory for girls and women. Boys and men tend to zigzag their way through adolescence. I’m struck by the fact that nobody seems to understand why this is happening.”

There have been several attempts to explain and justify this widening college education gap. Many seem to point to biological factors claiming that long before female students outnumbered men on university campuses, they outperformed boys in high school. The Wall Street Journal report delved into the striking differences between boys and girls at a young age. “Girls in elementary school spend more time studying than boys, are less likely to misbehave than boys, and get better grades than boys across all major subjects.” Prominent psychologists, including Angela Duckworth, have found that, while girls and boys have similar IQ scores, girls consistently get better grades in part because of their superior self-control and ability to delay gratification. 

In light of this issue, some colleges have been tipping the scales in favor of male applicants to avoid having their schools become 70% female. But Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, thinks “It’s a mistake to exclusively see the female-male gender gap as a college problem. If we wait until college to intervene, it’s too late. The pivot point is in adolescence, and the foundation is laid in the early grades.” 

Since the mid-1980s, women in the United States have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men mainly because they have been told that more education will lead to better wages, according to a 2018 Georgetown University study. The problem of the widening college gap has become so extreme that some colleges have started discriminating against female entrants and instead are admitting less qualified men, to maintain a more balanced female-male ratio on campus. However, the issue hasn’t made breaking news in the last 40 years because, the fact is, no college wants to tackle the issue under the glare of gender politics. Although women’s representation among the college-educated workforce is expanding, they are still underrepresented in the workforce and are still earning less than men for performing the same jobs. On average, a man with a bachelor’s degree out-earns an equally credentialed woman by about $26,000 per year. I believe this has fueled the conventional view on campuses that men make more money and hold higher positions. Why should we give them a shove from high school to college? Why should they get special treatment from college admission councils?

Krista Akiki is a junior living in McGlinn Hall, majoring in business analytics and minoring in computing and digital technologies. She grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and moved back to the U.S. to pursue her undergraduate degree. She loves learning new languages, traveling and of course trying new foods. She craves adventure and new experiences and hopes to share these with readers through her writing. She can be reached at [email protected] or @kristalourdesakiki via Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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