Why do Women outnumber men in college?

A shift in expectations

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, young women's expectations of their future labor force participation changed radically. Rather than follow in their mothers' footsteps, they aimed to have careers, not just jobs. These careers were often outside of the traditionally female occupations for women. In high school, they took more science and math courses. As a result, their twelfth grade math and reading test scores increased relative to those of boys. The authors figure that about 30 to 60 percent of the increase in the female-to-male ratios of college graduates from the 1970s to the 1990s can be explained by these changes.

Delayed Nuptials

Another relevant factor in the gender shift, the age of female college graduates' first marriage, increased by about 2.5 years in the 1970s. Whereas from the 1950s to the early 1970s women had tended to marry a little more than a year after graduation, by 1981 the median age of marriage for college-educated women was 25. This delay allowed many women to be more serious students and less concerned about securing a husband while pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Physiology and Psychology

Another aspect in the reversal of the college gender gap, rather than just its elimination, is the persistence of behavioral and developmental differences between males and females. Boys often mature more slowly than girls. In grades K-12, boys tend to have a higher incidence of behavioral problems (or lower level of non-cognitive skills) than girls. Girls spend more time doing homework than boys. These behavioral factors, after adjusting for family background, test scores, and high school achievement, can explain virtually the entire female advantage in getting into college for the high school graduating class of 1992, the authors figure. It allowed "girls to leapfrog over boys in the race to college."

Other Factors

  • Adding to the possibility of a greater investment in professional careers was the availability of the contraceptive "pill." Women could better plan their futures.
  • With a resurgence of feminism, young women also felt more empowered.
  • Since 1980, the wage premium for a college degree has risen, especially for women.

FYI, The female share of college students has expanded in all 17 member-nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in recent decades, so much so that women now outnumber men in college in almost all rich nations.

The Digest of NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) is not copyrighted and may be reproduced freely with appropriate attribution of source.

Source NBER.org

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