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Gender Bender: The AAUW's New Report on Gender Equity

The American Association of University Women released a 124 page report this morning debunking the myth of a "boy crisis" in education. Lots of long-term NAEP and ACT/SAT trend data to mull over.

The real trend story, though, is not about test scores, but about how girls have overtaken boys in college completion. 65% of all bachelor’s degrees were awarded to men in 1960; by 2005, women received 58% of all bachelor’s degrees. Gender disparities are even greater among some minority groups, with women earning 66% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans, 61% of those awarded to Hispanics, 60% of those awarded to Native-Americans, versus 57% of those awarded to whites.

Beyond the impact of the women's movement, my money is on girls' advantage in non-cognitive skills (i.e. motivation, sticktoitiveness, engagement) which may have grown over time, or alternatively there may be increasing returns to non-cognitive skills in finishing college. No evidence for this assertion - just a hunch. Feel free to offer other interpretations of the graph below, which shows trends in BA attainment by race and gender from 1971-2006.


How about: Attainment of a college degree is becoming an increasingly important signalling device for "pink collar" jobs for female. Blue collar jobs are still readily available for males with no college degree.

Or, males are not being displaced by females in the more financially important math, science, and professional degree areas which remain dominated by males.

KDeRosa seems to me to be painting a slightly optimistic picture for males. I think what we may be seeing is that an increasing economic divide particularly affecting males.

There are still high income, high status jobs that remain a primarily male preserve. But I don't think blue collar jobs are as "readily available" for males with no college degree as they used to be. Compared to 40 years ago, I think its likely that many more working class families depend on the wife/mothers office job as the stable source of income.

This absurd and deeply flawed report begs what are the real motives of the AAUW- an ideologically biased women's organization commenting on boys is a pretty good indication that their findings are manipulated and irrelevant. A reading of the report only confirms this.

Thanks Eduwonkette, this is an important point you're making. Ever since their misleading 1998 study, in which they pretended that girls are being more shortchanged by our schools than boys, the AAUW has been dedicated to boosting girls (good) at the expense of boys (bad).

KDeRosa's claim is also not obviously true. Though I'm sure you can find more men on Wall Street, women surpassed men in med school applications in 2003, and I'm not sure there's a more "financially important" science-related industry than that one. I'm also not sure why KDeRosa decided to choose only the financially important math/science jobs, in which there's an interest gap that may explain the alleged gender gap; law school applications from women have exceeded those from men since 2000.

Furthermore, the blue collar/pink collar distinction does not comport with my experience as a teacher in urban schools - far more of my kids' moms have jobs than their dads do. Of course, this is impacted by incarceration rates - it's hard to get a job with a prison record - but that should in fact be one of the outcomes we examine. As you point out, Eduwonkette, test scores aren't as important as where they end up in life, and for boys a high test score clearly doesn't equal a college degree as commonly as it does for girls. Of even greater importance, it's also evident that test scores (and our schools) have done a terrible job of keeping boys out of jail. I don't think there's any measure in which it can be argued in good faith that our schools are creating life outcomes for our boys that are as good as those we're creating for our girls.

Still chewing on the definitions of "pink collar" and "financially important." Would the opposite of "financially important" be "socially important?" Women overwhelming dominate the huge occupational cluster of teaching--but I wouldn't call teaching a pink collar job.

I am thinking that women are drawn (whether by social conditioning or by--gasp--nature) to jobs with human or natural contexts. Joanne Jacobs had a great piece on Monday about why women with high potential in math and science choose medicine or the biosciences over more abstract studies. Maybe women who excel in STEM-related skills want to use those capacities to do socially important work, while men assess personal profit before benefits to society. Not saying that's the case--only that there are multiple perspectives in analyzing what is, after all, just data.

Better stats from another (less biased)source, the CPST:

Overall, women have outnumbered men at the undergraduate level since 1982, earning 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2004 and 49.2 percent of the STEM baccalaureates. When the social sciences and engineering technologies and science technologies are excluded, women earned only 38.4 percent of the natural sciences and engineering bachelor’s degrees. Women earned more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in psychology (77.8 percent), biological/agricultural sciences (60.1 percent) and the social sciences (54.5 percent), while men earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees in engineering (79.5 percent), computer sciences (74.9 percent), and physical sciences (57.9 percent). Overall, women’s bachelor’s degree attainment has been increasing in the STEM fields, while the number of men earning bachelor’s degrees in the
STEM fields has been hovering around the 200,000 mark for more than 30 years (1970-2000).

Percentages for Master and doctoral degrees are lower.

Socrates, applicatsions to med and law school are not exactly indicative of degrees earned or workforce participation. Women self-select out of these professions at a higher rate, especially in law.

Your interest gap explanation is a convenient excuse, but that causation has yet to be demonstrated and it is odd that otherwise capable females are self selecting themselves out of the most financially lucrative professions and not others.

Your experience with urban schools is not exactly indicative of the population as a whole.

Actually, my experience in urban schools is indicative of a major problem we have: the incarceration of a disproportionate number of our males. I attribute much of the cause to schools that don't know how to educate boys.

So women are self-selecting out of professions after entering undergraduate or graduate degree programs in the fields? Sounds to me like that's a matter of interest, not compulsion. If you were arguing that 5th grade girls self-select out of science class at a higher rate, I'd buy the argument that this flight was caused by the schools, but given their tendency to leave after being admitted to collegiate programs, I'm less inclined to assess culpability to anyone other than the adults.

I don't think we should be all that concerned if there's a gender imbalance within majors. It's naive to think that men and women on average are equally interested in every single field. A college degree, however, is a gatekeeper in modern society; it's the difference between nearly guaranteed self-sufficiency and guaranteed struggle. A 58-42 gender imbalance among undergrads is a huge, huge problem that is undeniably hurting males.

Ken – Yours is an interesting hypothesis, but those who have tested the hypothesis that greater returns to higher ed for women explain the overtaking and continued surge in college completion find that this can only explain a small part, if any, of the story. For example, see article in Demography:

Analysis of March Current Population Survey data from 1964 through 2002 shows that white women overtook white men in their rates of college completion and that this phenomenon occurred during a period in which women's standard-of-living gains from college completion grew at a faster rate than those for men. We assess whether these trends are related to changes in the value of education for men and women in terms of earnings returns to higher education, the probability of getting and staying married, education-related differences in family standard of living, and insurance against living in poverty. Although returns to a college education in the form of earnings remained higher for women than for men over the entire period, trends in these returns do not provide a plausible explanation for gender-specific trends in college completion. But when broader measures of material well-being are taken into account, women's returns to higher education appear to have risen faster than those of men.

Melinda, There are gobs of data on long-term score and college completion trends in this report. Regardless of whether you agree with the conclusions, there is much we can learn from the data presented.

Socrates, I agree with the AAUW that girls’ gains have not come at the expense of boys. Beyond ideological trade books (i.e. The War Against Boys) I have seen little evidence to the contrary.

Also, re “I don't think there's any measure in which it can be argued in good faith that our schools are creating life outcomes for our boys that are as good as those we're creating for our girls:” I think it’s important to look at how out-of-school conditions that have changed over the past four decades have potentially affected boys and girls differently. For example, we know that the female edge in college completion appeared first among families with absent fathers (see this earler post)

I’m glad you brought up incarceration because this may also contribute to the very large gender gaps within poor and minority groups (though note in this graph that African-American women were already at parity with men in college completion in the early 1970s).

Nancy – The issue of professional choice is a tricky one, and it’s still poorly understood. While agree with Socrates that we don’ t need absolute parity, I do think it’s important to figure out why women with strong math and science skills don’t choose these fields.

Socrates, While I am thinking about it, I think you would really like this book, which is based on an audit study in which black and white testers with criminal records are sent out to find work:

Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration

Sounds to me like that's a matter of interest, not compulsion.

I agree with this. I also think that males are self-selecting out of financially dubious college degree programs, i.e., the ones typically full of females.

I don't think we should be all that concerned if there's a gender imbalance within majors.

Nor do I.

A college degree, however, is a gatekeeper in modern society; it's the difference between nearly guaranteed self-sufficiency and guaranteed struggle.

I disagree. This data comes from pretending that all college degrees at each level are the same. They are not. The STEM degrees are much more valuable than most non-STEM degrees. If you separated the STEM degrees and non-STEM degrees which require high cognitive ability (thus precluding many from entrance) and the non- and low-sakilled jobs and only looked at the remaining degrees (dominated by females)compared to non-degree skilled labor (dominated by males) the differential wages are likely to be low to non-existent.

There are two different question being discussed in the comments. One has to do with women getting college degrees, the other has to do with the paths these women take after college.

I think its pretty clear from this data that, for one reason or another, females are more likely to succeed at earning college degrees than males. I would argue that this is not meaningless -- for either men or women, not having a college degree significantly limits your life options.

On the otherhand, I think it likely that if we looked at the earning of male college graduates over their adult life, compared to the earnings of female college graduates over theirs, male earning would be significantly higher. Many economists would argue that this is due to different preferences, but many of these preferences may turn out to be somewhat constrained by circumstance.

But these are two differenent issues -- and in many ways they suggest that getting a college degree may be an even bigger determiner of life outcome for men than for women. My life as a STEM PhD may not be a great deal different from that of many women who didn't quite get their BA's, but I don't think the same would be said comparing my male grad school classmates with male non-college graduates.

It looks like the AAUW is still cooking the data to pursue their sexist agenda. As the father of a white boy in an excellent school system, I can see that the school environment is definitely tilted toward the girls. Among other issues, is tolerance of (and even amusement at) girls' violence toward boys, and trying to raise a child in to have a healthy self-image while he's surrounded by t-shirts like "Boys Are Stupid. Throw Rocks At Them," and "Girls Rule, Boys Drool." The teachers, too, constantly make jokes belittling manhood. There's more, but apparently the AAUW isn't interested.

Look at those gains in the early 70s!

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Jonathan: Look at those gains in the early 70s! read more
  • Fred Hayward: It looks like the AAUW is still cooking the data read more
  • Rachel: There are two different question being discussed in the comments. read more
  • KDeRosa: Sounds to me like that's a matter of interest, not read more
  • eduwonkette: Socrates, While I am thinking about it, I think you read more




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