By Bijoyeta Das
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Young U.S. women are finishing high school, attending college and earning degrees at higher rates than men. A boys' educational crisis (of arguable extent), two-income families and rising divorce rates help explain the widening gaps, onlookers say.
BOSTON (WOMENSENEWS)--She is excited to leave the nest.
"College is a must. No questions," said Taylyse Wornum, 18. She entered the University of Massachusetts at Amherst this fall as a freshman to study communications.
Young women like Wornum are increasingly outpacing men in the successful completion of high school and college enrollment.
Among Boston public high school 2007 graduates, 153 young women attended college for every 100 men, according to a July study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which prepared the report for the Boston Private Industry Council. Among those attending four-year colleges, the gap was even wider: 166 women for every 100 men.
Across the country, in every race-gender group, more women get degrees than men, said Andrew Sum, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies. "That's true for every degree level: associate, bachelor's and master's."
When it comes to Ph.D.s, there is almost parity.
Jennifer Millien, 21, a public relations student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams, said she is proud of the inroads women are making in education and is happy to be entering a work force that seems to be in favor of women. "But, despite all the statistics showing so many women pursuing careers, women continue to earn less than men. It is kind of weird."
Wage and work force numbers are two different issues, said Richard Whitmire, whose book, "Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind," is due to be published in January from Amacom Books. "Wage depends on the choice of major, job sector, hours of work per week. Also what kind of negotiators they are."
"Women are doing better in terms of schooling and men are doing a little bit worse, overall," said Caryl Rivers, a professor of journalism at Boston University and a frequent commentator for Women's eNews.
Rivers said women's educational gap over men could only be considered a "disaster" among minority and rural white men. "Too often the media is marketing the crisis to the readers they want and that's the affluent middle class," she said. "It is not a boys' crisis but a 'some boys' crisis,' a phenomenon that is not emerging in middle class families."
Whitmire agrees and disagrees. "It is a true crisis among African Americans and Hispanics," he said. "Then you work your way up and it is a serious problem among males of blue collar families. And it is a slight issue among elites."
The world has become verbal, and boys tend to do badly in this area so they are lagging behind in literacy skills, Whitmire said.
From an economic perspective, he said, the nation will have to depend on foreign nationals for job sectors where women are underrepresented, such as the hard sciences. This trend will also have a tremendous impact on interpersonal relationships, he added, as highly educated women refuse to "marry down."
During the 2006 to 2007 school year, 158 women received associate degrees in the nation for every 100 men. Women received 135 bachelor degrees for every 100 men, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics.
By 2018, women are expected to earn more degrees than men in every field, including law and business.
The July report from the Center for Labor Market Studies noted that the gaps are wider in urban areas and persist across racial-ethnic groups.
In Boston, black females enroll in colleges at a rate that is 5 percentage points higher than that of white males, the report said. Among African Americans, for every 100 men, 191 women choose a four-year college and among Hispanics it is 175 women for every 100 men.
Both Hispanic and African American males in Boston have the lowest high school graduation rates in recent years, according to Sum.
Similar gaps are seen in other parts of the nation. At the University of California, females represented 56.6 percent of the students admitted for the fall 2006 term.
Nationally, college enrollment among women is projected to grow by 16 percent between 2007 and 2018, compared to 9 percent among men, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
A gap is also seen in rates of high school graduation. The Manhattan Institute reported in 2006 that 72 percent of female students graduated from public high schools in the nation compared to 65 percent of males.
Both public and private high schools, nationally, are graduating 23 percent more African American females than males each year and there is a 4 percent difference that favors females across all ethnic groups, according to a 2006 report from the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
Gender gaps, in graduate level education and more recently in work force numbers, are used to measure male advantage.
But those gaps started to shrink in the 1950s and now they have reversed, said economist Mark Perry, at the University of Michigan-Flint.
In 2008, there were 143 women enrolled in graduate schools for every 100 men, meaning women represented 58.9 percent of all graduate students, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Nationally, women were ahead of men in 7 out of 10 fields of study, including public administration, health sciences and education, and were underrepresented in three fields: business, engineering and physical sciences.
"Which is really kind of different, it is a structural change we have never experienced before," said Perry. When women earn higher degrees, they have better professional opportunities, which has a direct impact on work force numbers, he said.
"Along with higher pay and more job market stability, women are less likely to be unemployed during a recession or a slowdown," said Perry. "This ties in with what has been called a 'mancession'."
Since the recession began in December 2007, men have lost 4.75 million jobs overall, whereas women have lost 1.66 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The unemployment rate continues to be much higher for men than women and women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the work force. The recession took a greater toll on male-dominated job sectors, such as construction and manufacturing. Female-dominated professions, including health care, education and government, continue to expand, Perry said.
Rivers, author of "Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women," said that while single male professionals earn more than single female professionals, the wage gap between the two groups was not "too huge." But when women in the paid work force start having children they often wind up as primary caregivers, and that's when they start to earn less than men.
Men's wages have been stagnant or declining for 20 years, Rivers said. "In today's economy, the dual earning couple is becoming the normative couple. This will continue."
Rivers also said that divorce fuels women's interest in education and the paid work force. "With a fairly high divorce rate, women are more and more not seeing that their economic future will be provided by men," she said.
Bijoyeta Das is a freelance writer based in Boston.
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