The Feminisation of Australian Universities

Uni_nos A discussion with Christine about the fact that the typical Australian undergraduate classroom is nearly 6/10ths female got me curious to go back to the statistics. Below are the long-run trends, both in absolute numbers and shares.

IUni_pctn 1949, 19% of undergraduates were women. Today, the figure is 58%. The 1974 reforms seem to have boosted the share of students who were women, but it wasn’t until 1986 that equal numbers of women and men were in the classroom. I haven’t shown the period since 2000 (since the data were in different spreadsheets), but there are no big changes that I can see over the past five years.

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10 Responses to The Feminisation of Australian Universities

  1. Andrew, Could this be because women are increasing their participation in the labor market and good jobs often require tertiary education?

  2. “The 1974 reforms seem to have boosted the share of students who were women.” Possibly, but the incorporation of teachers colleges into the statistics (1973, government; 1974 non-government) is likely to have been important too. And the re-introduction of charges did nothing to deter women. To the contrary, the same trends as before continued. Overall, I think Cameron is right on the major driving force, with the long-term gender imbalance we now see caused by a combination of poor school results for boys and the lack of attractive employment alternatives for lower class women – the guys can get trades.

  3. To expand on my last comment, I looked at census data on 18-19 year olds living at home. In 2001 for the children of managers and professionals male numbers at uni were 82% or 81% of female numbers. For the children of tradespersons and labourers male numbers were only 66% of female numbers. Among these latter groups, male uni attendance rates declines as family income grows – presumably because they see their fathers earning good money without any more sitting around in classrooms.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Cam, interesting graphs. I guess my focus was not on why %female rose, but why it rose above %male. For all the anecdotal stuff about trades, when you run the regressions, going to uni still gets men much higher earnings than alternative forms of education. Andrew tells a story in which men make what I would regard as short-sighted decisions not to attend uni based on watching their fathers. The Goldin-Katz story is one about cognitive skills – that at the end of highschool, men are less well placed than women to attend uni.

  5. Andrew – I’m not convinced that these are necessarily short-sighted decisions. We’re probably talking here about guys who haven’t done that well at school, but perhaps well enough to go to a Dawkins university, where attrition rates are fairly high and where we are yet to see strong evidence that average graduate earnings are significantly higher than those of people who pursue alternative paths. It’s perfectly plausible that the trades are a better bet for them, especially where their family and social networks can get them guaranteed positions (in sorting out various plumbing problems at home, I have now dealt with 4 members of the one family) rather taking a punt on something good coming up in 3 or 4 years time.

  6. Andrew, I was asking if those graphs suggest that; because women are increasingly participating in the workforce that they see education as a necessary part of it. So younger women, rather than becoming a professional housewife, are treading the path that males commonly took in the past (even twenty years ago by those graphs).

    Also if you have data/graphs on the change of participation rates by age in the Au economy since 2000 I would be massively interested.

  7. Andrew Leigh says:

    Cam, I suggest using the ABS’s time series spreadsheets (probably table 1).

  8. Elliott says:

    I am surprised with the figures as occupational choices reflect comparative advantages, not absolute advantages. The male have the C.A. in physical strength demanding jobs, which do not require higher education. So I very much agree with Andrew that there is no much role for policy intervention.

    What surprises me more is that some middle-income countries, such as Taiwan, share the same phenomenon. Around 10 yrs ago, the proportion of female students in Taiwan’s universities has passed 50% and has been increasing since then.

  9. Elliott says:

    correction: my previous post should read: I am NOT SO surprised…..

  10. Christine says:

    Elliott: How much physical strength do you need to be a truckie? Electrician? Plumber? Even wharfies probably don’t need that much physical strength, though truly this is beyond my ken. 🙂

    Cameron: There’s some controversy in the US newspapers/blogs at the moment about stories that suggest the upper income girls going to elite colleges are planning to become professional housewives. Is this rational? I don’t know. Once upon a time when uni might have been the place to snag your man, maybe, but now? That said, I don’t have much confidence in those stories – fun to think about, though.

    More seriously, working and education are so inter-related that it’s as easy to say more women are working because they’ve got more education than they used to, which changes the tradeoff between paid work and house work, as it is to say more women are getting an education cause they’re working more. And given women’s labour force participation remains below that of men, still doesn’t explain women being more likely to go to uni than men.

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