Is there a “boy crisis” in higher education in the United States? Are females outperforming males at disturbingly high rates?
Yes and no. It depends on how you look at it.
The numbers do seem to indicate that something is going on. According to the U.S. Department of Education, significantly more college degrees are being awarded to women than men. Women earn about 62% of all associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s degrees, and 59% of master’s degrees. This is especially interesting because, on the undergraduate level, there isn’t much of a gap at all between males and females entering college. The problem is with male graduation rates.
However, some argue that the so-called “boy crisis” is overstated. A recent report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) argues that the most significant disparity in educational achievement isn’t gender—it’s socioeconomic status and income level, which makes a far greater impact than gender. The gender gap in education is quite high among poorer students, but among students of middle class or higher status, the gender gap in favor of women is only slight.
Another important part of the educational gap to consider is the question of marketable skills and majors. Traditionally, majors that have attracted women (education, nursing, liberal arts) have led to lower paying careers, while majors that have traditionally attracted men (sciences, computers, engineering, business) have led to higher paying careers. As more women take on nontraditional majors, and as these fields open up more to women, this gap is closing. However, this disparity certainly hasn’t gone away—and it’s just as important as the question of whether more women than men are graduating from college.
Furthermore, it’s important to look at the entire socioeconomic picture for women after college. Women still only make about 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes. The degree to which this gap has closed over the years (it was closer to 50 cents after World War II) is certainly something to applaud—but there’s still a serious gap. Moreover, the gap between male and female wages increases quite a bit as women get older and into the years where people typically accumulate wealth. Right out of college, the gap isn’t all that high, but after the childbearing years are over, women tend to make significantly less than men. Women who choose to have children commonly find themselves downwardly mobile in the workplace, and the same is not true for men who have children—a fact that is not being offset much at all by women’s increased graduation rates.
So should we be concerned by the gap between male and female educational achievement? Of course. But the situation is more complicated than it looks on the surface. For a more accurate understanding of gender inequality in education and beyond, it’s important to look at the bigger picture.