Arnold Kling  

Males, Females, and College

The Education Gap... A Serious Budget...

USA Today writes,

Currently, 135 women receive bachelor's degrees for every 100 men. That gender imbalance will widen in the coming years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.

(I got to the story by following Glenn Harlan Reynolds to The American Council of Trustees and Alumni blog.)

Here is the distribution of scores on AP stats from my class of last year, by gender:

Males: 5,4,3,2,2
Females: 4,3,3,3,3

Note that the mean is the same, but the variance is higher for males. There is some evidence, alluded to by the infamous Larry Summers, that such a pattern is true more generally. That is, men or more represented at the top and the bottom of distributions of ability.

My guess is that as of 1960, two things reduced the proportion of women in colleges. One was overt discrimination. A second was that much less than half of the population went to college, so that colleges selected more from the top of the distribution.

Leaving aside overt discrimination (although it really was an important factor), imagine that the rule in 1960 was for a college to accept everyone in my class who scored a 4 or better on the AP. Then 2 out of the three students would have been male. Suppose that today the rule is to accept everyone who scored a 3 or better on the AP. Then 5 out of 8 would be female.

My guess is that these numbers have really changed the mating game in college. When I was in college, girls could be choosy and a lot of guys wound up lonely. I think it's the other way around today.

Because social life is such an important issue for students, I wonder if they won't find a way to re-equilibrate the situation.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Tyro writes:

Interesting. What's the proportional representation of men v. women at the most competitive liberal arts colleges? - those that might still impose a cut-off closer to the historic standard of your conjecture.

Because social life is such an important issue for students, I wonder if they won't find a way to re-equilibrate the situation.

.. ever heard of LUGs ? ( feel free to pull this part if you think that it'll distract the commentary )

Tribucket writes:

Actually, the disparity in intelligence distribution seems to be because intelligence is determined by lots of different genes, but several of these are located on the X-chromosome. A genius woman basically has to run the table twice on these genes (conversely, to be really dumb she must basically inherit bad copies twice). This would explain much if not all of the apparent difference in distribution - it's sex linked.

So women, if you have a genius son, be twice as smug: he inherited it from you.

Mike Anderson writes:

Great example, but it has some statistical flaws.

(1) You're measuring students in your class, not potential college students, so there's selection bias.

(2) If you look at the latest SAT scores (Table 6) you'll see that not only do the men have higher standard deviations, they have higher means (math and verbal) as well. Even though the women taking the SAT outnumber the men ~39:35, using SAT scores as an admission cutoff gives men the advantage for any scores above 625 in verbal and 450 in math.

Unless the correlation between math and verbal scores is very different for men and women (the College Board carefully omits this statistic), there's clearly something else going on.

One more thing: before we get crazy about the 100:135 graduation ratio, maybe we need to find out the admissions ratio!

Tyro writes:
One more thing: before we get crazy about the 100:135 graduation ratio, maybe we need to find out the admissions ratio!

good point

The article is a hodgepodge of factoids, and they don't bother referencing the DOE study by name.

But if this is less than the graduation ratio, then I'd assume that the increased disparity is largely due to attrition.

Will writes:

Speaking of changing the mating game, you forgot to figure in the birth control pill. Not automatically expecting to be a mother helps a lot of women get into college. Not actually being a mother helps a lot of women make it through college.

Robert Schwartz writes:

Lowell Jacobson has an excellent discussion of the issue. He points to male inclination toward career paths that do not require college to produce reasonable incomes. As he says, and I am sure you will agree, incentives matter.

ss writes:

My personal observation, as a man coming from a school with a 70/30 female to male ratio, is that attractive girls always get to be picky, regardless of the male/female percentages. Hot girls are the true limited resource.

The hotties cycle through the desirable, available males and get married whenever they want. Males with no standards cycle through the rest of the female population indiscriminately. Girls who want to mate get to mate, even if they have to take turns. Meanwhile, midlevel males reject the homelies, and hold out futilely for their chance with the hotties--they graduate sexless and turn to post-graduate internet dating. There they meet and marry the girls they would have rejected in college.

thibaud writes:

Women tend to be slightly more intelligent than men on average; men's intelligence tends to be much more dispersed ie clustered more on both the rocket-science and the dullard ends of the curve. So as college admission expands to include more and more of the middling high school students, it's logical that this would significantly increase women's college enrollment relative to men.

Also, it seems likely that as african-american and hispanic enrollments increase, women's dominance of these groups will expand the overall ratio of women:men enrolled.

Tyro writes:

A quick review of the recent literature suggests otherwise - assuming that you're referring to standardized IQ scores. Men do display greater variance, but also a slight advantage in mean IQ. Womens' advantage appears to lie in short term memory. But the disparities are so minor ( 3-5 pts ) that I doubt that they're significant to this issue. IIRC men also outperform women on both the verbal and maths portion of the SAT.

Jorge D.C. writes:

If attrition is to blame then blame it on MATRIARCHY. Today's higher education experience with its abandonment of patriarchal principles would be unrecognizable to the college student of 50 years ago. For males, today's liberal arts education is a laugh and a bore. They are being attrited as an outcome of the newly feminized learning environment. Big surprise, that.

Randy writes:

I think men have just figured out that it doesn't take a college degree to be comfortably middle class.

Also, I have seen a marked increase in the number of women in middle management positions. They get paid well, and they like to pretend to be in charge - but they're not. They are totally dependant on the tech guys who treat them like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and feed them bull...)

Bottom line, the women's movement was very good for women, but even better for men. We have less responsibility now. $30K is plenty if all you need is an apartment, car, TV, and beer money. If you somehow end up with a family, you can always put the wife to work.

Pamela writes:

Re your comment: "My guess is that as of 1960... was that much less than half of the population went to college, so that colleges selected more from the top of the distribution." For an economist, you are ignoring the big determinant of college admission in 1960 -- wealth. Except for those on the GI bill, college students were much less economically diverse. There is no way that GW would have gotten into Yale nowadays, except as a legacy, because it is far more competitive. I would just add that I am pretty taken aback by the misogyny of a lot of these posts -- "feminization of liberal arts"???? I guess it's only to be expected of trained economists...

Randy writes:


Mysogeny you say? People do tend to resent those who have power over their lives. Women have been saying rotten things about men for years (millenia?) for that very reason. And now the tables are turning. I don't see mysogeny. I see a balance of power. And I think you're going to have to learn to live with the comments - just like men have.

Auros writes:

I saw this question asked way up top, but not answered, and it was my immediate thought as well.

How do community colleges, adult-education programs, etc, compare to standard undergrad admissions at highly competitive universities? When I was at Hopkins, it was still over 50% male; and while JHU has a more aggressive culture than average for top schools (including chronic problems with cheaters, esp in the pre-med community), I don't think that issue would be enough to lower the proportion as much as, say, the technical culture of CMU or MIT or CalTech. I think the first class with an excess of women (still barely a percentage point) was the one that was admitted the year I graduated ('99), and subsequent years have continued hovering around the 50-50 mark.

I'd guess that what's happening is that a lot of working-class women are completing AAs at community college, then BAs in city or state programs -- trying to move up, leaving their male counterparts behind. The pattern of female striving and male perpetual-adolescence is already well-established among the urban poor (both white and minority). This seems like it's just a confirmation of that trend...

Morgan writes:

Interesting logic. Everyone is so quick to assume that the smartest people go to and graduate from college. But for whom is that true? The number one prognosticator for graduation from college is financial support. If one looks at only the top 25% of wealthy families than perhaps it is a question of intelligence. But the truth is that there is far more support for women in college than there is for men. I suspect that if one looked carefully at the numbers one would see that the lower the wealth of the family the faster the dropoff in male graduation rates. Universities are not friendly environments for men from low wealth backgrounds. They are much more likely to have to work while going to school longer and at harder jobs than their female counterparts.

Randy writes:


Good point. I worked my way through school at a meat packing plant. My sister's education was completely paid for by my parents - and I'm paying for my daughter's education. Why? Because girls need the help and guys can fend for themselves. Interesting.

Steve Sailer writes:

The huge gender gap in terms of college graduation is among blacks and Hispanics. Among whites and Asians, it's still pretty balanced between the sexes, but it's trending female.

At the extreme right edge of the Bell Curve, though, it's still very male.

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