Men Still Studying Less, Earning More than Women (Part I)

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 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.

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  • lefemmeferal  On January 31, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Hi, I’m glad that you are out there spreading the word that male privilege still supersedes female hard work and education. I wrote about it on my blog as well.

  • Melanie  On January 31, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Love this! Thank you!

  • Bill Diamond  On January 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Who should be paid more: A Civil Engineer with a B.S. degree who can design and build a bridge that won’t fail and kill people or an English Major with a B.A. who can deconstruct pre-feminist underpinnings of the mid-19th century Victorian era literature?

  • M  On February 1, 2010 at 8:27 am

    The Conference Board of Canada didn’t compare the number of women vs men in engineering education and engineering practice. The number of women in education is actually decreasing from a peak in 2001, from almost 21% to 17% in 2007 in Ontario.

    In the US, when women’s salaries are adjusted for years experience, women engineers make 97 cents for every dollar earned by men.

    Sorry, I don’t know how to use HTML.
    Also sorry if this is troll feeding, but I am interested, because I am a women engineer.

    • Brett K  On February 2, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Thanks for those links – not troll feeding at all, don’t worry. I hadn’t realized the number of female engineering students was so low, or that it was increasing so slowly (or, in the case of the past few years, not at all). It clearly indicates that the wage gap is not just about individual employers discriminating against women – if it were, the solution would be much easier. Instead, we have to confront a whole range of structures that discourage women from entering higher-paying fields, and that undervalue any fields that become female-dominated.

      I know a couple of female engineering students, and from what they’ve told me, not only is it really male-dominated, but there’s a lot of sexism in the department, especially coming from professors. That hasn’t scared them off, but I can see how it would be discouraging for some people – my liberal arts program was stressful, but it was also one of the first safe, feminist-friendly spaces that I’d ever encountered, and that made the difficult aspects of it a lot easier to deal with. I also wonder if the lack of flexibility in many engineering programs is a deterrent for women, since so many female students are also caretakers.

      This is all just speculation, of course. I’d be interested in how your experience compares, both in education and as a professional.

  • M  On February 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I am a PhD student, and my professional experience would be from attending conferences and activities in professional society activities, and not work experience. I think that your speculation agrees with my experiences.

    The faculty in my current department is extremely dominated by white men. I have also experienced frequent, but usually milder forms of sexism from the faculty. I have also experienced less frequent, but worse sexism from grad students.

    Many women don’t notice, or even deny that there is sexism. I have been told that I am wrong in pointing out the sexism in a group of female grad students. It was a painful experience.

    There is a huge pressure to be one of the boys, to act like them and put up with rude and offensive behavior.

    You are right, it is discouraging.

  • Chiropractic Internet Marketing  On February 23, 2010 at 3:31 am

    Investment in education for girls increases the economic & social returns of development investments in all other sectors. Educating girls contributes to creating wealth through its impact on economic development.

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