The Lost Boys: A Study of Gender Inequalities in Scholastic Performance, College Matriculation and Degree Completion, and the Latent Social and Economic Implications

Editorial Note:  This is a paper I did for one of my classes.  Hope you enjoy!

The end of the school year was near for Superintendent Kenneth Dragseth and the rest of the Edina, Minnesota school district. It was the time of the year when students stress over finals, teachers make plans for their upcoming vacations, and seniors prepare for graduation.   It was during an award ceremony for the seniors when Dragseth made a troubling observation about his school district.  “I couldn’t help but notice that nearly every honor and every award was going to a young woman,” Dragseth stated.  He would later find out this was a trend that was not localized to Edina.

Across the United States, and in almost every industrialized nation in the world, girls are outperforming boys in the academic environment.  In 2009, females accounted for 57% of the college student populace.  They received over 225,000 more bachelor’s degrees than men last year, and over the past thirty years, women have been awarded over 3 million more degrees from four-year institutions than the opposite sex.  The phenomenon is not only relegated to undergraduate schools, either.  Each year, women account for nearly double the number of Master’s degrees conferred to men.  For the first time in history, we now live in a world where women are, on the whole, better educated than men.  While the American Association of University Women and other feminist groups do not see these statistics as a problem, the fact of the matter is that our educational system is fundamentally flawed when it comes to the way we educate our young male children.  These defects in the structure can affect our boys in early childhood, high school, college and graduate school, the workplace, and their place in society, in general.

The debate on the educational gender gap, literally, begins at birth.  It is the longstanding psychological dispute over nature vs. nurture.  Are boys less predisposed to schoolwork and a classroom environment because of certain genetic differences between boys and girls, or is it society’s acceptance of “boys will be boys” that hinders their performance as students?  Whatever the answer to that question may be, it is clear that from as early as kindergarten, girls are able to pay more attention and grasp reading and writing concepts quicker than boys.

There is also a social stigma placed on reading and writing as being feminine activities.  Young boys are supposed to be outside playing soccer or baseball, not inside reading a book.  This idea is not only a societal one, but it is also guided by peer pressure.  Boys will pick on other boys for excelling in the classroom.  It is sometimes easier just to go along with the other boys rather than to continue to do well and cope with the insults and teasing.  When they are inside, they are more likely to be playing the Harry Potter video game on their PlayStation 3 than they are to be reading about the boy wizard.  Eighth grade boys spend an average of 23 hours per week playing video games, which is more time than they spend on watching television and doing homework combined, according to a study by Michigan State University.

Male children are also more likely to be in trouble or have problems learning.  Over 75% of the enrollment for special needs courses, such as those for behavioral and developmental disorders, are male students.  Female teachers, who compose over 70% of elementary educators, sometimes find it difficult to deal with the more disruptive and less focused boys, and prefer to work with the more docile and attentive girls, thus creating an unintended bias toward the young female students.

When the boys reach high school, they are now helplessly behind the girls.  During standardized testing, 17 year-old boys score, on average, 11 points lower in reading.  Young men do, however, hold a slim advantage over young women in mathematical scores, but math is generally not going to help you as much in other subjects the way that reading does.  It is this disconnect with school life that is a primary reason that males account for 58% of high school dropouts.  Boys are also more likely to take the fast payoff of going into the work force upon graduation.  Brandon Koerner tells a story in his piece for U.S. News & World Report, entitled “Where the Boys Aren’t”, about a college student whose freshman roommate drops out to take a job with a computer firm.  By the time the student graduates, his former roommate is already making over $100, 000 per year.  It’s this kind of story that is keeping our young men from going on to college.  Those who choose this route see college as a waste of time; time that they could be out earning immediate money.  This type of short-sighted mentality is causing our nation to lose a generation of potentially great male leaders.

As almost 60% of high school boys head off into the work force, young women start to apply to the college of their choice, and they will begin to feel the adverse affects of their academic reign over the young men for the first time.  Colleges, trying to maintain a gender balance in their student bodies, have begun to shun the ladies in favor of less qualified men.   “Women are, in a sense, now becoming victims of their own success, in that, the better they do as a group, the more difficult it is for women individually to get into [elite] schools,” Alex Kingsbury, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report, stated in an interview with National Public Radio.  Brown University, for example, had an applicant pool of 11,083 women and 7,233 men in 2007.  Yet, despite that disparity, Brown enrolled 1,341 women and 1,190 men.  Women represented 61% of the applicant pool, but only 53% of the admitted students.  This “reverse affirmative action” is only exacerbated by the fact that not only is the female applicant pool more talented, it is also growing at a faster rate than the pool of men, which has declined since 1967.

But, the problems don’t end at the doors of America’s great institutions of higher learning.  Within the halls, young ladies face a problem that is now threatening to trouble them for the rest of their lives.  This time, however, it has nothing to do with academics or applicant pools.  This problem is a social one.  With college gender ratios skewed as much as two females for every one male on campus, dating life for heterosexual women is becoming an exceedingly difficult task.  “The guys here notice that they’re outnumbered, and they take advantage of it.  They date more girls, sometimes several at a time.  They can get away with it,” Meredith Gayle, a junior at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, stated.  Sorority sisters often outnumber fraternity brothers by three-to-one during Greek parties on her campus.  The gender gap widens as students head into graduate school, where women now account for 61% of all master’s degrees awarded.  The percentage slips down to 55% for doctoral degrees, but that equates to roughly 10,000 more female doctors than male each year.

After college, the future looks dim for those young men that have slipped through the cracks of academia.  The average 25- to 34-year-old man earns an average of about $31,000 per year.  An associate degree would add $5,800 annually to his salary, while a bachelor’s would tack on roughly $17,600 each year.  Master’s degrees can double his salary by $34, 700, and a high school dropout can subtract $8,800 from the initial figure on average.   During the decade of his life from ages 25 to 34, the high school graduate will miss out on $176,000 that he could have attained if he would have graduated from a four-year institution.  The odds are that he made nowhere near that amount of money from ages 18 to 22 while the college graduate was in school, and this is not even taking into account the amount of money that they will make for the rest of their lives.  According to a report by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, people that earn the bachelor’s degree will make nearly $1 million more in their lifetime than a high school graduate.  That figure jumps to $1.5 million more for someone with a master’s.

The social ramifications of this new wave of educated women are vast.  As was the case at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, college educated women are suffering from a lack of choice when it comes to looking for a mate with a similar educated status.  Those who are not fortunate enough to have found such a man are forced to “marry down” to a man who is less educated, or to remain single.  The latter is a growing choice for many American women of today.  It is the same problem that African American women have faced for decades.  Of all degrees held by African Americans, females have earned over 60% of them.

Another social problem associated with the poor performance of boys in school is the rate at which high school dropouts, particularly African American males, end up in trouble with the law.  Of the total population of prisoners in the American penal system, 78% did not graduate from high school.  Another startling fact is that one-in-three African American males that did not graduate from high school are incarcerated on any given day.

The United States is poised for a complete paradigm shift in its business and government gender ratios if the status quo remains intact.  Our young women of today will be our leaders of tomorrow.  Whether you view that as a good or bad thing, our current educational situation will do more for gender equalization for females than any piece of legislation ever could.  If we do not do something to revamp the condition of America’s educational system for the benefit of our boys, the pendulum will sway the other way, and we will lose a generation of young men that could, given a balanced academic slate, push this country to new heights in the 21st century and beyond.

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About Richard Howk

Fiction author with my first novel, Pariah, available December 2nd.
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