We've all heard that women outnumber men in college, and a new study may reveal one reason why: people apparently perceive college as more necessary for women than for men.
According to Reuters, the Pew Research Center talked to over 2,000 Americans and found that while 77% said women needed to go to college, just 68% said men needed to. Also, women tended to be more positive about their college experiences — female graduates were more likely than male ones to say that their education was worth the money, and that college contributed to their personal and intellectual growth. Another interesting finding: 40% of women's parents paid for college, while just 29% of men's did so.
What's behind this gap in how college is perceived — and how women experience it? Does college reward skills that are more common in women? Is it part of the new world Hanna Rosin controversially described in her essay on "The End of Men," a world in which "the attributes that are most valuable [...] — social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus — are, at a minimum, not predominantly male?" Are people still counting on the kinds of male-dominated manufacturing jobs that may not require a college education, but have been hit hard by the recession? Are they thinking instead of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who amassed enormous fortunes and launched a certain archetype of male tech entrepreneur, all without a college degree? Do they think women need a college education to overcome discrimination and join the boys' club?
Whatever the case, there's the potential for a feedback loop here: if people continue to see college as more necessary for women than for men, more women may enroll and more men may opt out, making universities seem more female and thus less necessary for men, and then starting the whole process over again. It seems unlikely that women will ever take over the entirety of the intellectual labor force, or that any other dire mancessionary scenarios will come to pass, but a perception that guys don't need college is none too good for young men. And a widening gender gap in enrollment without a corresponding closure of the wage gap might lead to more debt for women — or, even more troublingly, a loss of respect for colleges if they start to become female-dominated institutions in a world where femaleness is still devalued. Really, large gender inequalities in college enrollment are unlikely to be beneficial for people of any gender, and when it comes to making decisions about college, one's chromosomes probably aren't very important. Now researchers need to figure out why people think they are.
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