The number of men attending two- and four-year colleges has reached record levels compared to women.
The gender imbalance in higher education is nothing new. Since the late 1970s, there have been more women than men on campus. The female-to-male ratio among college students increased much more between 1970 and 1980 than it did between 1980 and today. And these numbers have hardly changed in the last few decades. In 1992, 55% of students were women. By 2019, this figure rose to 57.4%.
Although the evolution of the male-female ratio in higher education is often characterized by men “falling behind,” the reality is that men are more likely to attend university today than when they were in the majority for several decades. In 1970, 32 percent of men ages 18 to 24 attended college; a rate likely increased by their ability to avoid the draft in the Vietnam War. That percentage dropped to 24 percent in 1978 and then steadily grew to a stable 37 percent to 39 percent over the last decade.
For the 2020-21 academic year, women made up an all-time high of 59.5 percent of college students, while men trailed at 40.5 percent, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. There were 1.5 million fewer students at South American universities than five years ago, and 71% of that decline was men.
School inequalities are part of an educational gap that has been widening for 40 years. If this trend continues, there will be two women for every man receiving higher education in the coming years.
Enrollment varies by race, with poor, working-class white men enrolled at lower rates than young black, Latino, and Asian men of the same economic background.
The sex ratio has changed largely because the number of women enrolled has increased even faster, more than doubling in the last half-century.
Due to changing quotas, some selected universities discriminate against women in admissions to ensure a balanced gender ratio. In general, admissions officers prefer to limit the gap to 55 percent women and 45 percent men. The reason the male-female ratio cannot get closer to the 2:1 ratio is simple: such a ratio would most likely lead to a decrease in the number of applications.
Women began attending college because they could, but many of them had to. There are still well-paying jobs for men without college degrees. These women are relatively few. And despite the significant time and financial costs associated with earning a college degree, many female-dominated jobs are poorly paid.
The gender imbalance on college campuses cannot be fully explained by school type, while community colleges have seen a relatively larger decline in the number of male students, nearly three times faster than the number of female students, according to 2020 data.
The Department of Education also shows that more women are earning college degrees: 65% of women earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Four-year colleges in 2012 graduated in 2018, compared to 59% of their peers.
The economic difficulties associated with the pandemic have likely forced many young people to prioritize income and forego higher education. Last year, about 200,000 fewer women attended community college, but the decline in their enrollment was less severe, perhaps “because they undoubtedly understood the bleak long-term career prospects of women without college degrees.”
The raw data does not take into account the variable value of college degrees. Men continue to dominate fields such as technology and engineering, where recent graduates command some of the highest salaries. Perhaps it is no coincidence that men dominate among professors in these fields.