Male/Female ratio in tertiary institutions: Women leading in many countries
After decades of concern that girls were not granted the same opportunities as their male classmates, the attention in the developed world has recently shifted to the relatively poor performance of boys in school.
Studies of students in the United States find that girls often receive higher marks from their teachers and have now reached parity and sometimes exceed boys on standardised exams, including those required for entry into higher education. Research also indicates that girls are more likely to graduate from secondary school and to take more rigorous courses while in school than boys.
These trends have led to a growing gender imbalance on college campuses that now favours females. In the United States, for example, males' share of total college enrolment has fallen steadily from 71% in 1947 to 43% in 2010, with 1978 the last year that males held an advantage.
Education experts in the US project an enrolment increase of 21% for women, compared to only 12% for men, through to 2019.
This pattern is not unique to the US. According to 2007 estimates from UNESCO, the share of females in tertiary education now exceeds 50% in almost all OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) member nations, reaching as high as 64% female in Iceland.
Females dominate tertiary education in several non-OECD nations as well, most notably in some wealthy Middle Eastern nations and less developed nations in the Caribbean. For instance, the share of females in higher education in Bahrain and Qatar was 68% and 64% respectively in 2007. Equally high shares were reported by Barbados, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
Due in part to their higher rates of enrolment, women are also more likely than men to obtain a college degree. There is also evidence that males fall behind even after they enrol in an institution of higher education.
In the US, 43% of bachelor degrees went to men in 2010 despite males comprising 45% of freshmen in 2006, suggesting that males fall behind even after they have made the initial decision to obtain a college diploma.
The growing female advantage in tertiary education may be partially linked to differences between males and females in their non-cognitive abilities. Studies have found that girls are advantaged in both non-academic areas such as parental, peer and teacher expectations and non-cognitive skills such as organisation, self-discipline, attentiveness, dependability and seeking help from others.
Other research indicates that the disparity between males and females in college enrolment and completion can be primarily attributed to women's higher high school grades, high-school graduation rates and likelihood of applying to college.
The precise sources of the gender gaps will likely vary by the unique context in each country. The consequences of the gender imbalance in higher education are also certain to vary across countries and are difficult to predict at the moment.
In the US, several higher education officials have expressed concern over the growing gender imbalance because they fear that it will reduce the ability of their institutions to attract the highest-performing male and female secondary school graduates.
Some officials have also reported that they employ strategies to increase the male share of applicants and that they weigh male applicants differently from female applicants in the admissions process. These reports have sparked debate in the media over the possibility that colleges are lowering their standards for boys and practising ‘affirmative action’.
In addition to the concern expressed by higher education officials, some research demonstrates that the gender composition of students' schools and classrooms can influence their achievement and attainment and that these effects may differ for males and females. This evidence of gendered peer effects may further influence gender differences in achievements and labour market opportunities.
The increasing dominance of females in higher education in the industrialised world is a trend that calls for continued monitoring and research. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that in these same nations, raw earnings disparities still persist.
Female advantages in educational attainment are only partially offsetting the advantages that males maintain in other areas. For example, men still choose college majors and gain employment in the occupations and industries with the highest wages.
In addition, in many countries in the developing world, girls continue to experience tremendous barriers to schooling, leading to a very limited presence of females in higher education and the high-wage labour market.
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