Sororities Up, Frats Down

A fascinating paper by Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz looks at why women outnumber men in US universities (as they do in Australia). For every man graduating from a 4-year college in the US, 1.35 women graduate.* Their abstract:

Women are currently the majority college students and those receiving a B.A., but were 35 percent of undergraduates in 1960. Although the relative increase progressed steadily from the 1950s large changes occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. Using three longitudinal data sets of high school graduates in 1957, 1972, and 1992 we show that the new gender gap in college was produced in several stages. From 1957 to 1972 high school girls increased their college going, however their high school course taking changed only slightly. But from 1972 to 1992 girls took substantially more math and science courses and showed greatly improved math and reading test scores relative to boys. These changes can account for one-third to one-half of the increase in women’s college completion rate relative to men’s. The expectations of young women about their future work were rapidly brought in line with reality between 1968 and 1979, enabling them to invest more appropriately in skills.

The most interesting fact-ette:

In all three surveys girls achieved higher grades in high school than did boys. In the WLS (graduating 1957) the high school rank of the median girl was 21 percentile points above the median boy. In the NLS (graduating 1972) the median girl was 16 percentile points above the median boy and the difference was almost 15 percentile points in the NELS (graduating [from high school] 1992).

* Apparently in some colleges in the US south, the ratio is now nearly 2 women for every man, which makes one wonder whether soon men will start attending university just so they can find a high-flying mate.

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7 Responses to Sororities Up, Frats Down

  1. Fred Bastiat says:

    Makes one wonder how much the world has been held back by male dominance.

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  3. Christine says:

    Ah, but how to reconcile with the figures from the UK (forget the source) that the more highly educated the woman the less likely she is to get married. Opposite for men. Prediction: fewer marriages, and probably kids. Perhaps the Libs should just go for it and restrict women’s educational opportunities if they want to increase fertility, rather than muck around with family benefits.

    Fred, you’re right. Makes one shudder to think how much talent has been wasted over the centuries that women were shut out of the workforce and ‘serious’ education.

    Seriously, though, this is a bit of a worry, and I’m not so complacent about it just being all about high school grades and thus inevitable. But I can’t quite bring myself to believe we’ve switched to discrimination against boys either. There are some other explanations for higher college-going among women – 1) really poor job opportunities for less educated women (because women are reluctant to go into the trades?); 2) boys don’t do as well with female teachers (recent NBER working paper); 3) and the idea that if boys are more at the extremes of the intelligence distribution then there may be a lot of smarter boys but there are also a lot of dumber ones so when college moves from taking 5% of the population to 50% (or whatever) then more girls will get in.

    None seem entirely satisfactory alone, but maybe altogether? And should we really be worried? Seems like 2) is a strong case that something is going wrong (teachers paid too little?), as would discrimination be. But what if it’s 1 or 3?

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Christine, I like your trio of causes, and agree with your conclusion. I find this phenomenon quite interesting, but I don’t see much of a role for policy here.

  5. Christine says:

    Yeah, it doesn’t seem to me there’s much of a policy role either, which is what worries me. If the statistics were switched around, I’d be thinking something needs to be done. But I don’t here just because I can’t see how it can be a problem that men aren’t doing so well? And I can even turn it around to show evidence of ‘discrimination’ against women (we won’t let them into the trades). A whiff of sexism in the air?

    They’re not of course my trio of causes. Another nice paper on the topic is by Brian Jacob “Where the Boys Aren’t” (though you probably know it already).

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    Christine, your introspection is wonderfully honest, but while the gender pay gap (controlling for education and experience) still favours men, surely we shouldn’t get too worried about this?

  7. Christine says:

    Yeah, for now, but one day we’ll rule the world! Errr, that is, in a different way than we do now (behind every successful man blah blah blah). But won’t have anyone to marry, so would we be truly happy?

    Seriously, I may be overly concerned, but 60-40 is a big split. And my kid’s a boy, the poor thing. So while I might not think there’s much to be done yet, I do think it bears watching.

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