One of my gigs right now is writing grants for a local community college.  While doing so, I ran across this astonishing statistic: 64% of scholarships at this school are awarded to female students. 


You might be thinking, “Aha!  Not only is there no bias against women in education anymore, the system is totally slanted in their favor.” 


Now consider this: 70% of the applicants for scholarships are female.  Since less than 70% of the awards go to women, any slight bias that exists favors males.  It seems they need all the help they can get. 


But wait, there’s more.  58% of the students at the college are female.  Women are far more likely to attend this college than men are, and of the students who attend, the female students are much more likely to apply for scholarships. 


Where are the men?


The college is not particularly female-oriented.  It offers degree and certificate programs in many typically male areas—construction management, materials sciences, manufacturing, aerospace, computer this and that, and more. 


And it’s not just this college.  Nationally, 57% of undergraduates are women.  That statistic has held steady through much of the last decade.  Girls are less likely than boys to drop out of high school.  They get better grades and come to college better prepared.  Just recently, women passed men in numbers of graduate degrees as well.  Check out George Will waxing outraged at how well women are doing in academia.  In his view, women’s success is evidence that those loud-mouthed feminists need not be advocating on their behalf.  In my view, it’s evidence that 40 years of relentless advocacy has paid off.


Here is the critical question I haven’t seen answered.  Are the numbers skewed because boys are doing worse, or is the change entirely due to girls doing better?  Those are very different problems.


Tell me, friends.  Does the American educational system disadvantage boys nowadays, and if so, how? 



16 thoughts on “WHERE THE BOYS AREN’T

  1. A fascinating issue: as a typical male, I’ll be back shortly after I bone up on the math, the statistics, you know, everything except the point. My gut feeling: I’ll sleep a lot more soundly at night when women rule the world. ‘Something in the way they know when and how to smile…’

  2. Off the cuff without having any idea whether it does or not, I’ll say this:  there are no male teachers in our elementary school.  Every employee except the custodian is a woman.  Those of us with mixed families know girls are easier to entertain and keep quiet than boys.  They’re easier to educate as well because they tend to be more attentive, more fastidious, more adept at language at an earlier age and less likely to jump up out of their seats and pretend to be The Last Airbender.  In my own personal experience I have seen girls favored in elementary school over boys, in a variety of ways.

  3. I think you’d have to look at it by discipline.  I’ve done some research on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and it does seem that in some fields women have come to predominate not only because their raw numbers have increased, but because fewer men are choosing those fields (psychology & veterinary science come to mind). That said, women’s overall numbers ARE on the rise and girls definitely do better in high school and as college undergraduates (in numbers and in terms of better grades).  That is *undoubtedly* due to the feminist movement and the focus on gender bias in schools of the past 25 years or so.  I think boys ARE disadvantaged in the elementary years – by a combination of mostly female teachers (as OBL mentioned) assuming boys will cause behavior problems, assuming either lack of interest in the subject matter OR that things should come easier to boys, and overcompensating in making sure that girls get attention and help and encouragement/challenges.  I’ve seen it – regardless of individual capabilities or interests, girls are often easier to manage in a classroom, they’re more communicative with their teachers (which teachers translate as more interested), and teachers expect boys to be a problem.    Back to women in college, though… the question is how to explain the “leaky pipeline” – i.e., the higher up the education/career ladder you go, the fewer women.  So those 57% of bachelor’s degrees going to women will become 38% of PhDs going to women will become only 17% of full professors are women  (I’m throwing these numbers out off the top of my head, but they are close to the actual numbers, at least in STEM fields).  This is the problem Lawrence Summers tried to address as president of Harvard – unfortunately, he fell back upon the “well, women just aren’t as good at or interested in science/math as men” argument, which led to his resignation. 

  4. @DrTiff – Sure, girls are easier, but this has always been true.  Does it really translate to a disadvantage to boys that they didn’t have before?  I think being a sweet, quiet little girl has been a huge disadvantage for my younger daughter.  She’s so easy to overlook and she never causes the teacher any problems, no matter how bored she is. 

  5. Well, this is pure speculation…  but let’s say, girls have always been easier in the classroom, but teachers did not always have an incentive to invest in them academically.  That is, the assumption was that boys would go on to college and careers, so they were always seen as the true “consumers” of education.  So perhaps there was a shift in saying, hey, girls can go to college/careers, too, so let’s focus on them instead!   I hear you on the quiet compliant kids (of any sex) just getting overlooked and moved through the system.  She’s probably one of those kids (like me, I believe) who will do well *in spite of,* not because of, her education.   By the way, I don’t think my son was at a disadvantage in school because he was a boy – he happened to be a kid who made connections with the teachers, liked to talk to adults, and got them invested in him, but he didn’t necessarily step up to the plate and perform the academics.  But I have seen teachers dismiss boys – get onto them for the SLIGHTEST infractions – and also teachers who didn’t “expect” girls to be good at math or like academics.  So, yes, it’s hard to make generalizations.  

  6. @ordinarybutloud – My daughter has a male teacher this year in 3rd grade, for all subjects.  He is fantastic, and not surprisingly, there are 15 boys and only 8 girls in the class — seems that they put a lot of boys in there who they thought would benefit from having a male teacher, for better or worse.  Our school also has a new male principal, a male P.E. teacher, 2 male music teachers, and 3-4 male teachers in grades 4 and 5.  I am so happy about this – both for my daughter AND for my son.  I love that they will get exposed to both men and women as teachers from a much earlier age than I ever did.

  7. @transvestite_rabbit – All the principals were male when I grew up, as were the superintendents.  Some of the teachers were.  I had a male third grade teacher.  But I suspect the girls are just doing better.  More social and financial opportunities to attend college.  It isn’t too long since a family would only pay for the education of the male kids.

  8. Okay, don’t get cranky, and I know I’m going to talk more about elementary school than college, which is where you were focused, but this is what hits me.  Boys (many of them) learn through action.  Girls more often learn well in a setting where they sit and are fed facts.  How does elementary school generally work?  Seems like that plays more towards the girls than the boys.  But…I have no evidence to support my thoughts (too lazy to Google it) and so could be all washed up.  It happens.

  9. @gwennieg – No worries, I’m not cranky.  Elementary school is critically important.  But here’s my issue with the theory: elementary school hasn’t changed much.  Indeed, any change that has occured has been in the direction of more boy-friendly action, not less.    

  10. @transvestite_rabbit – I don’t think that’s true in terms of elementary changing toward more boy-friendly or “active” types of learning  – is that what you meant?  If anything, elementary school has become MORE about sitting still, taking tests, more pressure to get through a heavier curriculum at a faster pace, while simultaneously cutting out time in the day for enrichments, for P.E., for recess, even for “hands-on” learning such as through science.  Whether or what impact this has on boys could be up for debate, but elementary school HAS definitely changed.   

  11.  We may disagree on the pace and objectives and *merits* of doing so, but I think by any objective standard they have introduced more difficult concepts earlier.  I’m talking about math here – and teachers will agree that what is taught in 1st grade now used to be 2nd or 3rd grade math, and on up until Algebra, which is now 7th/8th grade and used to be high school.  And by “move through the curriculum faster” I mean that teachers have less control over what gets taught and when, and are held instead to schedules for how and when to present the material, so there is no time to slow down and review concepts that some kids may be having difficulty with.  Ironically, after rushing through the school year, the kids take a long summer break and then come back to 6-8 weeks of REVIEW anyway… so what was the rush?  And now the kids who don’t need the review are probably even more bored…  Anyway, we could probably AGREE that public education (or large group education of any sort) disadvantages kids on both ends of the learning spectrum – especially at the elementary level, those who *could* move ahead, are held back by the curriculum and/or their peers, and those who need to slow down are just left in the dust.   At least in jr. high and high school there is more lateral movement as kids are broken up into classes by ability.     Isn’t it unfair that we expect ALL 4th graders to be at the exact same level in math?  But when they get to 7th grade we admit, ok, some may need more time with Basic Math, some can move into Pre-Algebra, and now some are ready for Algebra (or more)?! Sorry, I think we got off the gender theme of this blog!  Except to say, consider how much MORE bored your daughter might have been in a math class 30 or 40 years ago, when teachers didn’t expect girls to be good at math in the first place, or didn’t expect (or encourage) them to become scientists, or engineers 🙂      

  12. As a mom of 2 boys, the oldest of whom is elementary school-aged, I have to agree with much of what DrTiff is saying in her last post.  We chose to homeschool our oldest because school required him to sit down and behave when he was physically, due to his age and probably his sex, incapable of doing.  From the time I was in elementary school 30+ years ago, student teaching 20+ years ago, and as a parent now, school has changed dramatically.  Back in the day we had PE a couple of times/week and recess for 30-45 minutes/day (at least).  There were opportunities to move.  We had a “special” (art, music, library) once/day.  So we moved to go to that.  We were ability-grouped so we could each (more or less) get what we needed academically out of school.  There were standardized tests, but they were for seeing who needed help, not how well the school/teacher was doing or to prove some basic level of understanding.  With “everyone does the same thing on the same day” educational philosophy pervasive in elementary schools these days, I think the boys, particularly the active, smart ones, are tuning out (and I fully believe the ability to sit still for extended periods of time is a milestone like everything else, and girls, on average, hit it earlier than boys, just like girls hit puberty earlier than boys) because they are BORED.  They don’t do the work or refuse to do the work.  And bored, active boys cause “problems.”  Problem kids get in trouble, get labeled as such, and are pretty much assumed to be not worth much (unless they are athletically gifted, then it is ok).  So these boys go through school unchallenged, labeled as trouble-makers, and pretty much learn that not much is to be expected of them.  So by the time they get to college, what’s the point?  The social/parental supports aren’t there like they once were either to advocate.So, as the parent of a VERY active and VERY smart boy, we chose to keep him home where he isn’t allowed to get bored but is also allowed to do laps around the dining room table during spelling lessons (although, when engaged in appropriately challenging work, he is less active and more focused).  I did not want to have to fight the school system to get him the academic enrichment needed to keep him engaged and “out of trouble” when all they would see is the result of the boredom, a hyperactive “problem” child.  Just my 2 cents.  And I think this indirectly answers your question.

  13. @Jacqueline718 – Thanks for your response.  Does your elementary school really offer no PE and no recess?  My 4th grader has PE twice a week, 30-45 minutes of recess per day, library once a week, and music twice a week (though sadly, no art).  I went to school a zillion years ago too, and I just can’t see much difference.  When I was in school, we sat for long periods of time, did worksheets, listened, etc.  I think teachers use a lot more hands-on materials now, especially in math, than they used to.  Do you think your son would have done better in the school that you attended, or would he have had the same problems?

  14. Wow, I feel like I’ve eavesdropped on a very interesting conversation. Which is better than eavesdropping on a boring conversation.  I don’t have much of an opinion on this, due to lack of experience in the matter and not really thinking about it when I was being highly educated.  I do know that personally I chose not to do a post-doc or pursue a full time faculty position so I could be a home maker (I am MAKING A HOME, isn’t that cool? (-: ).  When I talked to one of the researchers who is big in the field I was in, he said that’s an issue for a lot of women and he has a harder time getting them in the lab because of the time constraints.  So.  Maybe women have enough time for education, but not enough time to establish a career?  This conversation all sounds so familiar…

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