Friday, August 21, 2009

What's a Degree Got to Do With It?


I continue to be fascinated with the growing blogosphere tempest about “gaming” (see new articles here, here, and here). As I read these articles, new ideas, thoughts, and questions pop into my head. Here’s one question: What is the relationship between the rapidly growing number of women with a college degree and the decline of traditional dating?

The modern West is practically unique (from a historical and global perspective) in giving women an equal opportunity to compete in higher education. We are used to thinking this process exploded in the 1960s. That’s understandable. We’re used to blaming the 60s for everything!

But in this case, at least, blaming the 60s won’t work. In the 60s and 70s, men still dominated higher education. The astonishing advance of women in higher education (first achieving parity with men, then exceeding them) is a much more recent phenomenon.

Take a look at these stats from Thomas Mortenson’s article, Where the Boys Were, which appeared in the June 2008 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education [paid subscription required].

In 2007, 33 percent of women between 25 and 29 had completed at least four years of college (a gain of more than 20 percentage points since 1970) while just over 26 percent of men had (a gain of 6.3 percentage points).

That means in 1970, 13% of 25-29 year old women [women who would be 64-68 years old today] had completed at least 4 years of college, while 20% of 25-29 year old men [ages 64-68 today] reached that milestone]. In less than four decades, we’ve gone from having men beat women 20-13% to having women beat men 33%-26%.

Think about those numbers. That’s quite a change in the balance between men and women. And consider this: The middle-aged women leaders of today (and their male compatriots) were still educated in a culture in which college-educated men were almost twice as common as college-educated women. In my generation, however (Generation Y), the number of college educated women exceeds the number of college-men by almost 30%.

What will be the consequences of this sea change as my generation advances into power? Well, let’s put it this way: If you hate gender relations today, you’ll probably hate them even more a decade from now!

I’ve clipped a few more sections from Mortenson’s piece:

* In 1970 there were 1.5 million fewer women than men in higher education. By 2005 there were 2.6 million more women than men enrolled […]

In 1970 women earned about 110,000 fewer bachelor's degrees than did men; by 2006 women earned about 224,000 more.

Boys are in a profound education crisis that has grown steadily worse, at least since the early 1970s. That crisis is the result of the failure of boys to get the education they need to qualify for the jobs that are available in the growing private-sector service industries that require extensive postsecondary education. Over the last century the labor market has been losing jobs usually held by men in goods-producing industries […]

* During World War II, about 35 percent of all jobs were in manufacturing. Today only about 10 percent are, and if trends over the last six decades continue, American manufacturing employment will approach zero around 2028 […]

Those jobs paid men well for the work they did, and men did not need much formal education to do them. But those jobs are gone, and they are unlikely to return to the American labor force.

As a consequence, since the early 1970s the incomes of men with less than a college degree have been in economic free fall. The share of the male population that is employed has declined, labor-force participation rates have dropped, unemployment has increased, average weekly hours at work have fallen, and median income for men has flattened. Many more men than women ages 18 to 34 are still living with their parents, fewer men are getting married, and more men have never been married. Male registration and voting have dropped sharply, incarceration rates for men have quintupled (America now leads the world in incarceration rates), and the already high suicide rates for men have surged in the 15-to-44 age group[…]

The employment that is expanding in America is in service-providing industries like health care and education, business and professional services, leisure and hospitality, financial, and other services. The better-paying jobs in those service industries require a great deal of education beyond high school. The girls get that message. The boys don't […]


Thomas G. Mortenson is a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

4 comments:

Ferdinand Bardamu said...

The basic problem with more women getting college degrees than men is because women are innately designed to seek men who are higher status then themselves. For instance, see all of the "ordinary girl married by a wealthy prince" stories that little girls love.

The higher a woman's status, the fewer men who are above her and can then obtain her interest. Effectively this means that college-educated women will be chasing an increasingly smaller pool of men. I expect that under these conditions, soft polygamy will become the norm as the pool of alphas leverage their value relative to the women who want them.

Todd White said...

You make a lot of sense, Ferdinand. In practice, I certainly agree that most women "seek men who are higher status than themselves." And I'm inclined to agree that this motivation is "innately designed." However, to what extent women SHOULD let this motivation guide their behavior I'll leave as an open question. I haven't reached a conclusion on that. It would be interesting to hear a woman's perspective.

Anonymous said...

College strings men and women along for four more years in the irresponsible stage of childhood. At the same time, most of these coddled children are whisked away from their parents and any source of adult supervision and guidance.

So they get all the rights and none of the responsibilities. No wonder they almost invariably develop unrealistic and unhealthy lifestyles.

Todd White said...

Anonymous: I don't disagree with any of that. It's clear that most young men and women aren't equipped to handle the new freedoms (plus fewer responsibilities) of college life.