January 4, 2006

Too few males in college or too many females?

In the Weekly Standard, Melana Zyla Vickers writes:

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.

Underperformance in education is no longer a problem confined to black males, Hispanic males, or even poor whites. In 2004, the nation's middle--income, white undergraduate population was 57 percent female. Even among white undergraduates with family incomes of $70,000 and higher, the balance tipped in 2000 to 52 percent female.

One of the oft-forgotten rules of history is that the fate of a society's males determines the fate of the society. In the big picture, women's lives vary much less than men's lives. A culture in which men achieve at less than their full potential will lag behind one in which women achieve at less than their full potential.

For example, I was watching the Vienna Philharmonic on New Year's Day on TV. They had one woman musician. Yet, despite widespread employment discrimination against women of this sort, Vienna is a pretty nice place. In East St. Louis, women hold most of the jobs, but it's not a nice place.

That said, I'm wondering whether this is quite as big a problem as it seems, or if the real problem is that too many none-too-bright girls are going to college these days. Anybody have any informative statistics on this?

A college professor writes:

One way to look at the issue of whether there are a lot of dull girls attending college is to compare their SAT scores with male students. For 2005, the mean score was 1009 for girls and 1051 for guys. If we want to remove the male math advantage, we can look at just the verbal scores: 505 for females and 513 for males. It might be that, since girls are more likely to be conformists, borderline cases will go to college while males will ignore mom and dad's wishes.

In my classes, the student with the highest grade is usually female, but the smartest student is more often male. An example of the evidence of this is that more than half of the most insightful comments made during class discussion are made by guys. And this is not because they speak up more often: they do not. The guys fail to earn the highest grade because they are lazier, less responsible, or less conformist. My impression is that, as a group, the girls are a little less intelligent but are definitely more responsible.

One issue with using SAT scores is that the percentage of 17 years olds taking the SAT changes over time, which makes comparing scores over time or between demographic groups like boys and girls tricky.

A reader writes:

It's not a statistic, but in one of those small "meetings-I-will-never-forget" (about some aspect of undergrad ed/recruitment/retention), I have a striking memory of the dean of engineering of one of the U. of California campuses saying, "Of course, we're basically a marriage market and baby sitting service." Nobody contradicted him...

He might be on to something. Girls are attending the "marriage market", regardless of whether they profit directly from college (if nothing else, it's a great place to meet lots of young people in a generally non-threatening environment).

It can make sense for parents to subsidize their daughters to seemingly waste a few years in college in the hopes that they'll develop a taste for college men, which should keep them from falling for losers who will hit them.

As regards babysitting, I went and got an MBA directly after college largely because I wasn't mature enough at age 21 to get through a job interview. By 23, however, I had become the devastatingly suave man of affairs that you all know and hold in awe. Or, at least, I'd grown up enough to get a job offer. (Now, however, it's practically impossible to attend a top MBA school at age 21 because the schools have figured out that they are evaluated not on the value they add, if any, but on the starting salaries of their graduates. Thus, the ideal applicant is a 28 year old with six years of work experience making $85,000. Two years and $90,000 in tuition and $120,000 in lost salary later, he can get a job at a $115,000 and everybody is impressed with how rich the school made him. )

Another side of this is that universities might be becoming dangerously close to just places where people unemployed or not yet in the workforce are "buffered". Kind of welfare for the upper half of the curve. How many of these ugrads are re-entrant middle-aged women studying things such as industrial design? (I've seen a lot, most will never end up doing what they are studying, but sooner or later they often end up with some sort of job, you can't say that going to school really hurt anything, and you get access to a lot of helpful services...)

In this scenario, we should all always be students (there's all that talk about lifelong education...). Then when we are out of work, we can just be "full-time" students! The universities love this concept, non-stop never ending student "churn"!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


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Anonymous said...

from above

"Matching almost 47,000 men and women on type of math course taken and grade received, women scored about 33 points lower on the Scholastic Aptitude Test-Mathematics than men who had taken the same course and received the same grade."

The graphs are amazing.