About Those Gender Imbalances

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In the decades following the widespread admission of women into virtually all schools, many schools, particularly small, liberal arts schools have come to deal with an odd gender imbalance. There are too many women in college.

Or, at any rate, there are more women in college than many college administrators would like. An article in Inside Higher Ed explained that:

The issue is an extremely sensitive one for liberal arts colleges, many of which in recent years have worried about their gender ratios reaching points (60 percent female is commonly cited) where they face difficulty in attracting both male and female applicants. Generally private undergraduate colleges have the legal right to consider gender in admissions. They were specifically exempted from the admissions provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

And so the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided to investigate the matter, in part to determine whether or not the U.S. should consider affirmative action with regard to gender. The issue is of some concern to Sara Goldrick-Rab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who finds all of this talk about the “mystery” of the educational achievement of men irritating. Goldrick-Rab writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that:

Sure, this is a wide range of potential factors, not easy to untangle. But while a few years ago we really hadn’t a clue about what mattered or why (partly because the trendlines were just becoming visible) this simply isn’t true now. This is a topic getting plenty of attention in the research community, there’s a reasonable amount of solid data for analysts to use to tackle the major questions, and researchers are on it. Just as one example, I recently reviewed conference proposals for higher-education sessions at a national academic meeting, and more than half of the approximately 50 I reviewed were focused on the gender in higher education question.

Gender achievement is no longer an unknown issue. There is a gender difference in academic achievement but the difference is not that astounding and, in fact, pretty much reflects gender and practice at the elementary and secondary school level. Men and women score about as well on standardized tests but women still do better in schools; girls work harder than boys. In part because this may hearken to some fantastic notion of the mystery of the other sex, people keep perpetuating the myth that there’s some big mystery to gender and higher education achievement.

The gender achievement gap is a real thing, and it is minor.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer