Men’s rates of college enrollment and graduation are sinking, and it’s only getting worse. What’s the solution?
First, let me apologize for the frivolous (and dated) Cooleyhighharmony reference. Though I do have a soft spot for that song, this article is meant to address an eminently serious topic: namely, the widening gender disparity in education.
According to the Pew Research Center, female first outnumbered males in higher education in the year 1992 (page 2). Since then, the gap has become a gulf, with 36% of women completing a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 28% of men (page 10). What’s more, it’s only going to get worse. Among young people in 2009, 44% of females were enrolled in college, compared to 38% of males (page 9).
If you’re a man currently in college, or a senior in high school getting ready to matriculate next year, this statistic may seem like a good occasion to exchange a high-five with your buddies, rather than raising the alarm. Sweet ratio; am I right or what? Up top!
But grave social consequences can be expected from this seismic shift, especially in a bad job market where the gap between the successful and the hopeless is more deeply tied to educational attainment than ever before. I won’t dissect the figures here, as our focus is elsewhere, but your chances of being unemployed are the highest by far if you lack a high school degree, and go down dramatically with each degree you attempt or complete. Despite all the anecdotal horror stories, unemployment is tiny among Americans who have a master’s degree or more (whether their wages are adequate, especially considering student debt, is another question entirely).
We’re going to see vast, unsettling economic changes as a result of this educational gap between men and women. Indeed, we’re already seeing it. The massive increase in the number of women in the workplace over the past half-century, as laudable as it is as a sign of social progress, nevertheless corresponded with a period of wage stagnation that is still strangling America’s middle class.
To put it another way, even for women who would prefer to limit their participation in the workforce, a two-income household is no longer optional, but mandatory, because most men aren’t getting paid enough to finance a family themselves.
America also, despite our flattering self-image as land of the free, has the highest incarceration rate of any country on Earth (probably of any major civilization in history). These prisoners are disproportionately male and disproportionately black, and are not only cut off from nearly all forms of economic activity, they are expensive wards of the taxpayers. This situation too will need to be addressed if we’re going to give men a chance in our society.
The crisis with males is a serious problem. It’s the mirror image of the girl-heavy ratio seen in our colleges, and it’s bad news. A surplus of frustrated, unemployable men is a recipe for trouble … war, for instance. (I’ve often worried about this given the gender gap in birthrates in India and China.)
We absolutely must do something to keep guys in school longer. If we don’t, they’re not going to have jobs, they’re going to be more prone to suicide, criminal behavior, political extremism, and just general maladjustment. It’s wonderful that women are seizing the levers of power, economically and otherwise, and I would be the last person to concern-troll you with cries of “misandry,” but these trends are very troubling. We need to launch a concerted national effort to help our boys, or we’re going to have a deficit of men.
Read more in Education.
Image of high school graduation courtesy of Shutterstock