While I agree that Feministing’s approach to this article – namely, their assertion (at least in the headline) that the gender gap in higher education is disappeared or is disappearing – is a misrepresentation, the amount of backlash that always seems to appear when feminists dare to suggest that the highly publicized “boy crisis” is, in fact, a myth, is both ridiculous and incredibly revealing. And since everybody and their mom seems to feel the need to jump in and inform us self-centred ladies that no really, the education system is FEMINIZED and DISCRIMINATES against boys and WHY DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT MEN, YOU EVIL HARPIES, well, I can’t help but throw my opinion into the mix, too.
My day job requires that I spend a lot of time working with educational researchers, though I myself am but a lowly admin assistant, so I like to think I have more than a passing understanding of the subject. And from what I’ve read, yes, women do outnumber men in postsecondary education (particularly university), and yes, girls do outperform boys at nearly every level of education. In my opinion as an aspiring academic and a feminist, however, this has nothing to do with either innate ability, or with a feminist agenda that favours girls and women over men and boys, and everything to do with patriarchy and its rigid construction of masculinity and femininity. Ultimately, the comparative underachievement of boys and men is linked to a system that values male achievement over female achievement, and that ultimately favours those same boys and men, regardless of their level of education, in the workplace and in society.
As the Washington Post article states, women make up 57% of university students in the United States – a figure which has remained consistent over the past decade. According to Statistics Canada, the male/female ratio in Canada is almost exactly the same as in the US (this post will largely focus on Canadian statistics, since I know a great deal more about them – however, from what I’ve read the American figures are very similar). In 2006, 28% of Canadian women ages 19-22, compared to 18% of Canadian men of the same age, were attending university, according to a 2007 article published by universityaffairs.ca. According to researchers cited in this article, this is evidence of “male malaise” and will put men at a disadvantage in the 21st-century economy. However, their own statistics show that the total number of men enrolling in university, as well as the proportion of the 19-22 male cohort, has increased steadily over the past three decades. The number (and percentage) of women has simply increased more quickly.
This, in and of itself, doesn’t invalidate all concern about the gender gap in higher education. After all, it was a lot easier to succeed without a university degree in 1972 than it is today. In today’s economy, it’s practically a requirement if you want to make more than minimum wage, right?
This is true, if you happen to be a woman. Though the age gap has declined significantly over the past few decades, Canadian women still make 72 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Higher education, however, significantly narrows the wage gap. According to the Conference Board of Canada:
Women aged 25 to 29 holding a graduate or professional diploma and working on a full-time, full-year basis earned 96 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2005.
Women with a bachelor’s degree earned 89 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
Women with a registered apprenticeship or trades certificate earned only 65 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
Young women with no high school diploma earned 67 cents for every dollar earned by young men with the same level of education.
To me, this data would suggests that women enter higher education not because the educational establishment favours women, but because we have no other choice if we want to make a decent living. Men with little education have the option of entering high-paying trades – women are never presented with this option, and as the figures above show, women who do take up trades earn significantly less than men with the same qualifications. Could this be… sexism?
Not to mention that, despite the fact that women generally perform better than men at university, we still earn 11% less than men with the same level of education. Granted, women and men with university degrees working in the same fields earn similar amounts (with the exception of management and sales, where women’s incomes are significantly lower than men’s), suggesting that the broader income disparity between in university-educated men and women is probably therefore due to the fact that male-dominated disciplines tend to lead to more profitable careers. My crazy feminist brain tells me this might have something to do with the undervaluing of traditionally female professions, but what do I know? I’m just a secretary.