Why Women Now Outnumber Men in College


In 2003, there were 1.35 females for every male who graduated from a four-year college, which is almost the complete opposite of the picture in 1960, when there were far more men graduating from college than women. In a recently study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they’ve attempted to figure out exactly why and how this switch has happened.

What they found, was the changes stemmed from the changing expectations of women’s future labor force participation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Beginning during this time period, women had greater guarantees by the U.S. government that job discrimination by employers against women could not and would not be tolerated. Women also anticipated a more level playing field with respect to men in terms of access to high-paying careers for college graduates and to professional and graduate college programs.

According to the authors, these changes, as well as others, led to a dramatic shift. In 1960, only 39 percent of 30-to-34-year old women were employed and 47 percent of those employed were teachers; 73 percent had children at home. Ten years later, in 1970, only 49 percent of 1970 graduates were employed at ages 30 to 34 and 55 percent of those with jobs were teachers. In 1980, when women reached 30 to 34 years of age, 70 percent were employed; only 36 percent employed were teachers and 60 percent had children at home.

The advancement of women in society seeking careers, and not just jobs, can be seen elsewhere. From 1970 to 1971 women earned 9.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees in business. From 1984 to 1985, women earned 45.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees in business, and then from 2000 to 2001, women earned 50 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in business. Similarly large increases have been seen in the female share of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering since the early 1970s.

Women are now tending to mary at a much older age. From the 1950s to the 1970s, women tended to marry no more than a year after graduation. But by 1981, the average age of marriage for college educated women was 25. Women are now working on gettin their degrees and starting a career before getting married and starting a family.

The author of the study asserts that the decline in male to female ratios of undergraduates is real, and is not due to changes in the ethnic mix of the college age population or to the types of post-secondary institutions they send. The number of women in college, and the overall female share of college students has expanded in all of the 17 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development throughout the past few decades. It has increased so much so that women now outnumber men in college in almost all rich nations.

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