September 27, 2005
Are there Too Few Boys in College?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Ann Althouse today blogs about a Glenn Reynolds article on why 135 women graduate with a bachelor's degree each year for every 100 men who do.  These bloggers focus on anti-male attitudes in universities that may have a backlash effect that discourage men.  However, the USA Today article that Prof. Reynolds cites points out that the missing men may be in prisons (5 million men in the prison system compared with 7.3 million men the same age in college) or may have dropped out in high school.  So, the more plausible thesis may be that boys are turned off in high school, not in college by the existence of women's centers and women's studies with no masculine analogue.  Perhaps if someone finds statistics that males enroll at an equal rate but drop out at a higher rate, that theory would be more plausible.  This stark 135/100 statistic doesn't even tell us where the imbalance is -- is there a gender imbalance at elite schools, where anti-male sentiment may be high, or at less prestigious, regional institutions where students choose between education and skilled labor jobs?  LSAT test takers are generally 50/50 male/female, so I would extrapolate from that cross-section to guess that the gender imbalance is not found at elite institutions or institutions preparing the bulk of their students for advanced degrees.

The Chronicle of Higher Education website lists data from 2002-03 that backs up this 135/100 claim; B.A. degrees in all fields were conferred in the following numbers:  to men, 573,079; to women, 775,424.  In the categories, the biggest bubbles of women seem to be in education, nursing, social work, linguistics, and psychology.  Interestingly, business degrees seem equally split.  The USA Today article had a scary take on the gross 135/100 statistic:  "The loss of educated workers also means the country will be less able to compete economically."  However, the overall number of educated workers has not declined, nor has the number of men getting degrees in business, engineering, etc.  The portent of the statistic seems to be that men are not attracted to teaching, nursing, or counseling, but women increasingly are.  This could also have negative effects, but probably different effects than the author of the article intended.  I do not know exactly how much the average teacher, nurse or social worker makes per year, but it may be that males would be more attracted to a skilled job that required no degree that paid the same amount or more -- plumber, electrician, contractor.

All this being said, I do wonder for my own little boy about possible backlash from female empowerment.  We love to watch shows like Kim Possible and Wild Thornberries, which showcase strong, smart, amazing little girls, but these heroines tend to have dorky boy sidekicks.  Will there be an imbalance of role models before the pendulum swings again?

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