Wednesday, January 24, 2007

 

Guys

The Chronicle has yet another article on the 'boy crisis' in education, this time focusing on colleges. Female undergraduate enrollment nationally passed male enrollment a couple decades ago, and the gap is growing steadily wider. Apparently, some colleges are so afraid of reaching a sort of gender tipping point (at which, say, the dating scene becomes problematic due to skewed ratios) that they're doing special outreach to male students, whether by purging pastels from their catalogs, adding football and engineering, or even lowering admissions standards for men.

This is one of those issues for which context is everything. Male enrollment in colleges hasn't dropped; female enrollment has climbed. That this is a 'problem' strikes me as questionable.

The 'solutions' range from constructive to harmless to awful. There's nothing wrong with adding engineering programs, and toning down the pastels is fine with me. Lower admissions standards won't help, though. CC's have open admissions, and our students are mostly female.

In my own teaching experience, the major gender difference I saw was on the lower end of the grade scale. Bright students could be either. Low-achieving women usually slogged through and passed, even if only with a C or a D. Low-achieving men more often just disappeared. I don't have a handy explanation for that, but it does seem to fit the national data. If you disaggregate the numbers, the gender gap appears most strongly at the lower-income, lower-gpa end of the scale. Among the affluent, it's negligible.

The paradox, of course, is that the numbers flip around once you get to income distribution, corporate America, the 'real world', or whatever other term you care to use. Women get higher GPA's, on average, but men make more money. Occupational choice probably has something to do with that – our Early Childhood Ed majors are almost entirely female, and that profession pays diddlysquat – but it's not as if the CEO's of the Fortune 500 are 50% women.

I suspect that we're seeing the unintended and incidental outcome of a number of otherwise-unrelated phenomena. Young men – especially low-income young men – are vastly overrepresented in our criminal justice system, which I would expect to impact college enrollments. (I suspect, though I haven't looked at the figures, that the military also skews male.) Guys in prison aren't enrolling at the local cc, but their girlfriends are. ADD and ADHD are disproportionately 'male' disorders, and would have direct effects on academic success, especially if undiagnosed. Certain male-dominated jobs don't require college degrees, but if you have the right connections, you can get in.

I hesitate to go to 'human nature' arguments, only because the gender balance didn't tip until the 1980's. I'm reasonably sure that human nature hasn't changed meaningfully since then, so the pop-Jungian “boys will be boys” line doesn't persuade me. The change can be linked to a specific historic moment, and needs to be explained accordingly. For example, the military is probably less male-dominated now than it was in the past, so I don't give that explanation too much weight. The male-dominated but good-paying occupations that don't require college degrees have largely declined since the 1980's. However, the great incarceration boom started in the early 1980's, so that looks like a likelier suspect.

More interesting, to me, is the disconnect between disproportionate female success in college, and disproportionate male success in the economy.

A while back, I did a piece on the three kinds of “A” students: the dutiful, the gifted, and the maniacal. The dutiful are the ones who make flashcards and read with highlighters and turn in papers in snazzy covers. They are almost always female. The gifted can be either. The maniacal are the ones with less stellar GPA's overall, but they hit it out of the park in the areas they care about. They can be either, though they're often male.

My impression is that the mismatch between the gender distribution of good grades and the gender distribution of money is a function of the relative values of the dutiful and the maniacal. The dutiful are stars in school, but limited in the real world. The maniacal are more problematic in school, but the highest (and the lowest) parts of the economic ladder are mostly theirs. The maniacal have a single-mindedness that makes them incredibly strong in one area, but kind of peculiar overall. They are often horrible human beings, on an ethical level, since their single-mindedness allows them to discount other points of view. They make great CEO's.

It may be that with the dwindling of the mid-century behemoth of capital, the General Motors in which The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and The Organization Man prospered, the social reward for dutiful behavior has dwindled relative to the social reward for maniacal behavior. Put differently, the traits rewarded in academia are less and less the traits rewarded in the economy. As a popular saying puts it, and the President of the United States has himself confirmed, the world is run by 'C' students.

For maniacs, as I use the term, it's entirely understandable to reduce education to its economic payoff. It's all about the Benjamins, as they say. For the dutiful, a certain payoff is expected, but too much focus on it is unseemly. (For the gifted, it's sort of irrelevant.)

Or maybe I've gone wildly afield. But I'm guessing that a mismatch between academia and the economy, combined with increased incarceration rates, provides a much better explanation than, say, Human Nature or feminists gone wild. Political correctness isn't much of an issue in the cc's of the world, as far as I've seen, but our enrollments are mostly female, too. Follow the money, and check the prisons.



Comments:
DD writes: "Low-achieving women usually slogged through and passed, even if only with a C or a D. Low-achieving men more often just disappeared. I don't have a handy explanation for that, but it does seem to fit the national data. If you disaggregate the numbers, the gender gap appears most strongly at the lower-income, lower-gpa end of the scale."

I think you're right about this. What I'd say from anecdotal evidence both from members of my family and students is that this is because men can still get pretty well-paying jobs without a college education (construction, factory work, etc.). No, these are not as stable as they once were, nor do they pay as much relationally as they may have 30 years ago, but the fact is, it is much less likely that a man at the lower income who drops out of college or just doesn't go will be making minimum wage without benefits than it is for a woman.

I'd say another dynamic in play is gender norms for how female/male children are treated in lower income families. It's not unusual for parents to cut boys off financially at 18 whereas parents are more likely to help daughters to attend college.
 
Perhaps I've been reading too much feminist epistemology and philosophy of science recently, but for an explanation about the economoics point, we need only look to the economic value placed on engineers vs. teachers to see the difference. The gender differences at the upper levels of math and science and the 'hard" philosophy (analytic epistemology, metaphysics and logic), even in academia remains. That sort of thinking is rewarded financially while more "female" ways of thinking and knowing are not.
 
On the military: yes, overwhelmingly male:

"Women comprised about 17 percent of NPS active duty accessions and 22 percent of NPS accessions to the Selected Reserve compared to 50 percent of 18- to 24- year-old civilians. Among enlisted members on active duty, 15 percent were women."
(DOD report)
 
To continue the thread drift into economics:

I don’t think that the compensation difference between teachers and engineers has as much to do with male/female perspectives as it does with replacement cost and value added. GM/GE/Intel doesn’t hire based on male/female ways of knowing and thinking, they hire someone to do specific things. The value of those things drives the demand for the people that can do them and the demand drives the price.

in other words: Engineers are more immediately useful.

A good philosopher can create you a new idea or a better understanding of an old one. When they’re done you have idea. A good engineer can create a new widget or help optimize an old one. When they’re done you’ve got a new product to sell or are going to make more money off of the existing one. Given the way mass production works this can be really useful.

Also, it’s easier to get a liberal arts degree than an engineering degree. Employers know this and can use it as a screening tool.

I do think that there is a lot of societal conditioning wrt what girls and boys should play with. Toy kitchens are in ‘girl colors. Toy workbenches are in ‘boy’ colors. Conditioning etc. etc.

I think worrying about boys being left behind is silly. It’s a small difference and seems like it’s more of a tool for people that don’t like feminists than a serious concern. If they’re so worried about a small gender gap what are their feelings about the huge racial gap? I say do nothing and things will work out for themselves.

To add to the thread drift: Dean dad what do you think about replacing racial admission preferences with economic admission preferences?
 
"the traits rewarded in academia are less and less the traits rewarded in the economy"

Bingo. Very astute and succinctly put.

How and why did this happen? What does it tell us about future demands for higher education? Is this related to your earlier post on Murray (well, yes, I think it is).
 
Joe - It might be accurate to say that the two disciplines require different skill sets, but I do not think it is fair to say that one degree is 'easier' than the other; unfortunately this is a common misperception.

Judging from the liberal arts course I taught to engineers last semester I would say that getting a liberal arts degree is not easier than getting an engineering degree. In general the engineers struggled with understanding and applying basic concepts and showed a lack of general knowledge that would be considered shocking in the liberal arts. They did not find liberal arts easy at all!
 
Male enrollment in colleges hasn't dropped; female enrollment has climbed. That this is a 'problem' strikes me as questionable.

The problem with statements like this is, of course, that if the shoe were on the other foot, the facts would be cited as prima facie evidence of discrimination against women, and this would be added to the calls for more aid to women. That is, whenever something shows that women and men are not exactly alike in some way, the response is one of the following:

(i) If the result is seems to be bad for women, it's just more proof that society needs to focus on helping women achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve.

(ii) If the result doesn't seem to be bad for either women or men, but is just different, then spin is put on it to make emphasize every possible bad aspect for women, and every possible advantage for men.

(iii) If, finally, the result seems to favor women, or show that men might be at some disadvantage in some aspect of things, then the response is either to just ignore it, treat it as just desserts, or, as you have done, to say that it's not a problem really.

Follow the money, and check the prisons.

I don't even know how to respond to something like this, except to point out that blacks are also disproportionately incarcerated. Why would you not then also say that the view that the underrepresentation of blacks in higher education "is a 'problem' strikes me as questionable"? (Or would you?) Perhaps the "mismatch between academia and the economy, combined with increased incarceration rates, provides a much better explanation than, say, Human Nature or" racists "gone wild" of the underrepresentation of blacks?
 
I'll leave it to someone more patient than me to respond to that last comment.

I find this all very interesting given that I attended a college that was overwhelmingly female and yes, there was much bemoaning of the dating situation. It was a christian college and, although most of us were women, the majors associated with careers that carried the most...shall we say spiritual capital...? they were entirely male. now, being a pastor doesn't necessarily entail great pay, but it does come with a status that is it's own reward. Just another take on ways in which "male" careers are rewarded more lavishly than "female" ones.
 
Some recent data from our CC:

female:male ratio 7500:5900

white non-Hispanic ratio 3900:3600

black non-Hispanic ratio 2800:1600

Most of the difference in male-female ratios is due to the difference in black student enrollment.

It is the case that incarceration rates for blacks is pretty high in this state, but correlation != causation, etc. Our institution has other special features that could bias our data.
 
At least at the top of the academic scale I'd say there maybe more girls than guys. I'm in an original literature based honors program and girls outnumber guys 3:1 in most honors classes.
 
I'll leave it to someone more patient than me to respond to that last comment.

I don't know if you intended it this way, but this comes off to me as very condescending. If you have something substantive to say, please say it.

[B]eing a pastor doesn't necessarily entail great pay, but it does come with a status that is it's own reward. Just another take on ways in which "male" careers are rewarded more lavishly than "female" ones.

If anything, this just supports my point. What would you say to someone who says: Being a teacher "doesn't necessarily entail great pay, but it does come with a status that is it's own reward. Just another take on ways in which "[female]" careers are rewarded more lavishly than "[male]" ones"?
 
Except, you know, teaching gigs aren't generally regarded as being "high status" in our society. Unless I'm missing the communities where teachers are recognized for their work in helping to form and codify ethical and ideological norms, leading social movements, and advising political leaders. Please correct me if I'm mistaken here.
 
It is also more than a little ironic that after literally a millenia or so of dramatic gender gaps in academia, during which time no one seemed overly concerned about how it impacted the dating scene, gender ratios regarding dating now gets raised as an issue.
 
Except, you know, teaching gigs aren't generally regarded as being "high status" in our society. Unless I'm missing the communities where teachers are recognized for their work in helping to form and codify ethical and ideological norms, leading social movements, and advising political leaders. Please correct me if I'm mistaken here.

I think you are missing these communities, as it seems to be rather the norm. In local politics, my experience has been that elementary education is almost always one of the most important issues. Teachers most certainly make their opinions known in this. The better ones are also "recognized for their work in helping to form and codify ethical and ideological norms". What community doesn't have teacher of the year awards, as just one example? If you're looking for universal accolades, I don't know of any ministers who receive those, either. And, generally, I'd say that teachers have about as much influence with their students as pastors have with their congregations.

As far as "leading social movements" go, very few people do that at all. If someone actually took the effort to try to make an exhaustive list of the professions of the leaders of "social movements", I'd be surprised if teachers didn't acquit themselves rather well.

And, finally, when it comes to "advising political leaders", I am doubtful that pastors make a very large fraction of all political advisors. And the NEA is one of the most powerful of all political unions.

So, overall, I think that the statuses of pastors and teachers comes out about even.
 
It is also more than a little ironic that after literally a millenia or so of dramatic gender gaps in academia, during which time no one seemed overly concerned about how it impacted the dating scene, gender ratios regarding dating now gets raised as an issue.

You might consider looking at who has brought it up here. If you do, you will notice that the only people who have are the people who say that the current gender ratio at colleges is not (or should not be, anyway) an issue worth worrying too much about.
 
So much of this is simple path dependence... people are compensated more, not because they are actually more valuable, but because that is the way it has always been done.
 
I think some of the behavioral changes within the educational system have managed to bore most boys to death. An example, in fourth grade my son was reading O. Henry and Jonathan Swift and stories like To Build a Fire. He loved to read. Then he had a teacher who let the class, mostly girls, choose the material. They were full of fantasy, fairy and romance stories that bored the boys to tears. So they stopped reading. I think in our lower grades too many well meaning, but misinformed teachers think that having all children read nice safe stories will insure a nice safe existence. In a similar fashion, in the traditional schools back thirty years ago, the norm was competitive. Spelling bees, multiplication races, geography quizzes and all kinds of tests of knowledge allowed kids to safely compete. Now days competition is nearly outlawed. Boys thrive on competition. Girls thrive on cooperation. It's part of the way we are wired and we don't often overcome those tendencies until college. By trying to make school nuturing for girls, we have created a virtual hell for boys. The data speaks clearly to the differences in learning styles. But what good does it do to know this, if we can't use it in class? Instead we must address everyone the same, use the same criteria and make the same often erroneous assumptions. That is why you sometimes see truly gifted and intelligent kids making C's and D's. They aren't stupid. They are bored to death.
 
I don't know how one can be an effective CEO and "ignore other points of view." An effective CEO has to manage a board and other administrators for one. And more importantly, a good CEO has to at least pay *some* attention to the point of view of his customers.

I do think the maniacal type fits the CEO not because they ignore others, but because they are highly-focused and often very oriented toward problem-solving. They are good "puzzlers." They are indeed more often male as you say.
 
Okay, I know this is a serious conversation, but I am just stuck on the phrase "feminists gone wild." What exactly would that look like? An all-night, Julia Kristeva performance art marathon? A viewing party for Judith Butler and Wendy Brown lecture videos accompanied by tequila and body shots? Live readings by feminist poets while simultaneously putting ON clothes?

That is it--the theme for my tenure party, should it happen. "Feminists gone wild!"
 
What would you say to someone who says: Being a teacher "doesn't necessarily entail great pay, but it does come with a status that is it's own reward. Just another take on ways in which "[female]" careers are rewarded more lavishly than "[male]" ones"?

"What color is the sky on your planet?"
 
So much of this is simple path dependence... people are compensated more, not because they are actually more valuable, but because that is the way it has always been done.

Many wages are definitely 'sticky' in the sense that they're slow to respond to changes in demand. This typically keeps them higher than they otherwise would. For instance take a look at adjuncts vs. tenured professors.
 
I think that's the first time I've seen the words "Wendy Brown" and "body shots" in the same sentence...
 
Okay, I know this is a serious conversation, but I am just stuck on the phrase "feminists gone wild." What exactly would that look like? An all-night, Julia Kristeva performance art marathon? A viewing party for Judith Butler and Wendy Brown lecture videos accompanied by tequila and body shots? Live readings by feminist poets while simultaneously putting ON clothes?

That is it--the theme for my tenure party, should it happen. "Feminists gone wild!"


I love this and I am stealing it shamelessly!

--- trystero
 
About 10 years back, we started to get inquiry response pieces returned to us...with the note that the piece did not include the prisoner number.

Yep, inquirers in prison.

I've always been curious what % of the students at the big Distance Ed colleges are incarcerated.

I don't even know what the federal financial aid implications would be -- would that prevent you from receiving federal aid?
 
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