March 03, 2008

Quick debunking: The college education gender gap

Myth: Colleges are facing a `man shortage'

Example: Weekly standard, 2006:

At colleges across the country, 58 women will enroll as freshmen for every 42 men. And as the class of 2010 proceeds toward graduation, the male numbers will dwindle. Because more men than women drop out, the ratio after four years will be 60--40, according to projections by the Department of Education.

The problem isn't new-women bachelor's degree--earners first outstripped men in 1982. But the gap, which remained modest for some time, is widening. More and more girls are graduating from high school and following through on their college ambitions, while boys are failing to keep pace and, by some measures, losing ground.


The percentage of men 25 years and older with a Bachelor's Degree or higher has risen steadily since 1940, and continues to rise. In particular, while only 7.3 percent of men 25 and older in 1950 had at least a Bachelor's degree (that would be around the time all the WW2 vets who went to college under the GI Bill started to graduate), in 2000 26.1 percent of men 25 and older had at least a Bachelor's degree.

For comparison, in 1950, the percentage of women 25 and older with at least a Bachelor's degree was 5.2 percent; in 2000, 22.9 percent.

Education is not a zero-sum game; the statistic is only alarming if you think that, for every woman who has a Bachelor's degree, a man is prevented from having one, or vice-versa. Every decade for the past sixty years, both more men and more women have gone to college than before.

Source: US census, A Half-Century of Learning: Historical Statistics on Educational Attainment in the United States, 1940 to 2000, Table 2 (XLS).

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