Why do so many more men than women drop out of college? According to a new study, it's not because of video game addiction or other commonly-decried symptoms of male slackerdom. Rather, according to a new study in the journal Gender and Society, men are much less willing to take on significant debt to finance their education.
As the study's authors report, this male reluctance to borrow isn't based on a greater fiscal caution among young men. It's rooted in the persistent wage gap that means that a college education is, at least in the short run, less essential to men's financial success. "Men who drop out face no financial penalty in their entry-level salaries. Women, on the other hand, are financially penalized for dropping out right away, earning an average of $6,500 less in their starting salaries than women college grads," the study notes. Staying in college, even with spiraling debt loads, makes more immediate financial sense for women.
The problem for men is that the decision to drop out and work rather than take on debt only makes sense in the short run. In the long time, they'll be penalized heftily. Authors Rachel Dwyer, Randy Hodson and Laura McCloud point out that this "initial gender advantage for men imposes considerable long-term costs in their lifetime earnings: by midlife, college-graduate men's salaries are on average $20,000 higher than those who did not complete college."
The end result is that it is women, rather than men, who have the more realistic long-term view of the relationship between debt and earnings. As the study makes clear, it's not that women are more inherently comfortable with a heavy debt burden — it's that women are more likely to see borrowing for education as a worthwhile long-term investment. As Gender and Society editor Joya Misra puts it, "Women's recent advantage in college graduation rates is associated with their relative disadvantage in the job market. At the same time, men's seeming advantages in the short run can lure them away from a surer path — college completion — to longer term economic security."
Precisely because young men still benefit from an enduring wage gap, they are apparently more likely to deceive themselves into imagining that a college education may not be worth the price. Time to think long term, guys, and borrow more.
Why Don't Men Finish College As Often as Women (PDF) [Gender and Society]
Jezebel columnist Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College and is a nationally-known speaker on sex, masculinity, body image and beauty culture. He also blogs at his eponymous site. Follow him on Twitter: @hugoschwyzer.
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