March 6, 2014

Women’s college enrollment gains leave men behind

College enrollment for women and men, by genderEven though college enrollment rates among young people have risen in recent decades, a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that females outpace males in college enrollment, especially among Hispanics and blacks.

In 1994, 63% of recent female high school graduates and 61% of male recent high school graduates were enrolled in college in the fall following graduation. By 2012, the share of young women enrolled in college immediately after high school had increased to 71%, but it remained unchanged for young men at 61%.

A similar pattern is seen among young Hispanics. In 1994, among Hispanics who completed high school, about half of men and women immediately enrolled in college. Nearly two decades later, college enrollments for both groups improved, but women outpaced men by 13 percentage points.

For black high school graduates, there’s a different story. In 1994, young black men were more likely than young black women to be enrolled in college immediately after high school. By 2012, the pattern had reversed: The share of young black men enrolled in college remained stagnant, while the share of young black women enrolled in college increased to 69% —a 12 percentage point gap with black men. 

It’s worth noting that the backdrop to these shifts is the changing demographics of the nation’s public school student population. In 2012, 25% of all public school students were Hispanic while 16% were black, 8% Asian American or Native American and 51% white. By comparison, in 1994, Hispanics made up 14% of public school students, blacks 17%, Asian Americans and Native Americans 4% and whites 65%, highlighting the growing impact of the nation’s non-white students.

Many scholars have offered reasons for the widening gender gap in educational attainment. Some have pointed to economic factors—as labor market barriers to women have been lowered, the benefits of a college education grew more for women than men. Others say the higher incidence of behavioral and school disciplinary problems among boys may be a factor. Citing some of these findings, last week President Obama announced a new initiative, called My Brother’s Keeper, that aims to empower young black and young Hispanic men, focusing on improving educational attainment and employment prospects while reducing involvement in crime.

Even so, the growing gender gap in college enrollment is not limited to Hispanic and black youth. In 1994, among high school graduates, 62% of young white men and 66% of young white women were enrolled in college immediately after graduation—a four percentage point gender gap. In 2012, that gap had grown to 10 percentage points as the share of young white women enrolled in college grew to 72% while the rate for men remained the same.

Among Asian Americans, there’s been a less dramatic shift. Among them, the share of high school graduates going to college immediately after graduation also grew during this time period for both young men and young women, but the gap is much smaller than that among other groups.

Topics: College, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, School Enrollment

  1. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Ana Gonzalez-Barrera

    is a research associate focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

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  1. David Sokal3 months ago

    Interestingly, the article doesn’t even consider the possibility that the issue is related to negative cultural messages or other inputs that affect male identity universally (irregardless of ethnicity). Perhaps the emphasis in the media and in society in general on “sexism” and its negative impact on women accompanied by overt or more subtle impugning of guilt upon the opposite gender has had an unintended consequence that is suppressing motivation to succeed in academia among young males. If so, Obama’s program should be geared to all males, but perhaps this would be counter to entrenched liberal/progressive values? The numbers do not indicate that the gap in enrollment is all that much greater for Hispanics and Blacks than it is for whites. This does seem to reveal a potential bias on the part of the President. I would guess this has nothing to do with his own ethnicity but rather his commitment to Democratic policies that have consistently positioned males (especially white ones) as the promulgators and beneficiaries of inequality. This is not always the case. For example, according to 2012 US Census figures, while poverty rates among Non-Hispanic whites are much lower than for Blacks and Hispanics of any race (13% versus around 26%) the absolute number of whites living in poverty is close to that of Blacks and Hispanics (19 million versus 24.5 million). Approximately 50% of the poor Non-Hispanic whites are indeed technically “White Males” but don’t fit the stereotype of being automatic beneficiaries of society’s hierarchies based on ethnicity and gender. While the excessive rates of poverty among “people of color” do justify extra governmental and media attention, they do not justify ignoring the plight of poor whites. It appears to me that Obama’s program, My Brother’s Keeper, may fit this pattern. Nonetheless, I am glad that the administration is paying attention to the gender gap.

  2. joseph3 months ago

    What percentage of students are student atheletes?

  3. Lex7 months ago

    Let’s get this straight now. Men of all colors are now the target of discrimination. The politicians and the folks at universities with the power to go thumbs up and thumbs down are incentivized to favor women.

    Its about time the establishment starting being concerned about people, not just the female brand of brand.

  4. Heath7 months ago

    While these statistics are quite revealing and informational, it seems that the statistics focus more on race and heritage rather than gender.

  5. kofybean7 months ago

    Why is it a problem for men to outnumber women in stem fields? But not a problem for women to outnumber men in college totally?

    Why did the article promote the idea that men are disciplinary problems as a scientific reason, but not list behavioral issues in women as a reason for anything?

    How is it possible to relate the causation of behavior in men to the correlation of college enrollment?

  6. Robert What?1 year ago

    The fact is that unless you are going to one of the dozen or so top tier colleges, like Princeton or Harvard (where you are essentially buying into their “network”), college does not make a lot of sense for most people these days, especially young men, except for those going into professions like law, medicine, etc. Even then, they’d probably do better going directly into a professional school straight out of high school. Most jobs available these days do not require a college education except by HR Department mandate. Most young men would do better to start a business or start working/interning in the industry or trade of their choice rather than spend the time and expense of college. Not to mention that colleges have become “hostile environments” for young men these days.

    1. womyn4 months ago

      everything you said. except this:

      “Most young men would do better to start a business or start working/interning in the industry or trade of their choice rather than spend the time and expense of college.”

      industries still favour the college student/graduate for interning/entry-level positions because they figure that such people have already been trained, even if it’s only theory. minimum wage (which is being increased) also makes this discussion moot since a company that has to pay >$10 per hour to train you is going to insist even more on college cred.

  7. Reuben1 year ago

    What I see is male enrollment holding steady and female enrollment increasing. So really, good news all around. Not sure I understand why you used a negative tone in your headline. Too bad because a positive headline about college enrollment would probably do more for future gender relations than a negative one.

  8. Simone Carlson1 year ago

    More men have been enrolled in college than females since the beginning of COLLEGE and no one made a huge deal about it. Now that the tables have turned suddenly it’s a educational crisis. I don’t get it.

    1. Nicholas11 months ago

      You would have considered it discrimination when less women were enrolled in college right? Why don’t you consider discrimination NOW when less men are enrolled in college? It’s OK with you now that less men are enrolled college. I’m sure the past situation is NOT ok with you and the present situation would NOT be ok with you if 25% fewer WOMEN were getting college degrees than men! The bottom line with people like you is that: it is DISCRIMINATION when it’s WOMEN who are disadvantaged but perfectly OK when it’s MEN who are disadvantaged! This is called a DOUBLE STANDARD which is the essence of both racism and SEXISM!

      1. A.8 months ago

        This is ridiculous. How is this sexism, in EITHER case, when attending college is completely voluntary? Discrimination has nothing to do with a voluntary act.

        If anything, more women voluntarily attending should signal that more women feel a “need” for higher education in order to make a livable wage. More men, on the contrary, do not feel the need to attend in order to make a livable wage.

        1. kofybean7 months ago

          Discrimination is to blaming for low female enrollment in STEM fields. So your argument doesn’t make sense.

        2. womyn4 months ago

          “women feel a “need” for higher education in order to make a livable wage.”

          strange, then, that they choose to study liberal arts and humanities even as they become even more useless than they were to begin with, and then complain about the dearth of women in the physical sciences and engineering.

    2. Steve8 months ago

      The point is not to “turn the tables”, right? That is not justice. That is revenge! Those are the times in which we live, though. :\

    3. womyn4 months ago

      “Now that the tables have turned suddenly it’s a educational crisis. I don’t get it.”

      to use your logic, if the tables were to turn once more, are we guaranteed not to hear a complaint from you?

      should the tables turn with respect to slavery?

      also, given that a lot of the economic arguments made for equality argue that we shouldn’t be wasting “half” the population, clearly when it’s men being left behind, such arguments hold no water. we should turn the tables and let only the women work while guys stay at home to completely right the historical inequities.

  9. lynn oliver1 year ago

    We need to understand how differential treatment “does affect” thinking, learning, motivation to learn, and accumulation of skills over time. We need to redefine stress more correctly as many layers of real mental work the mind is performing work on from past, present, and future concerns, both consciously and subconsciously.
    Try to picture an upright rectangle representing our full mental energy. Little three and four year olds are able to learn very quickly for they have all of that mental energy. As we get older we accumulate layers of mental work from our individual environments that take up more mental energy. Draw in, from the bottom, horizontal lines to represent many, some very narrow, some significant, layers of mental work that take up real mental energy. The space we have left shows our leftover ability to think and learn new things. The higher those layers the harder a person has to work to think and new things. This can cut learning, motivation, and accumulation of skills over time.
    Regarding Males today, the information age is more important and girls are being prompted to learn and go to school. However, there is a large array of differential treatment that occurs as early as one year of age and increases over time. The belief Males should be strong allows much more aggressive treatment of Males from a young age and increases in time. This more aggressive treatment creates higher layers of mental frictions; more social/emotional distance, wariness of adults; more activity for stress relief; and higher muscle tension that hurt handwriting/motivation to write. Males are also “not given” kind, stable, verbal interaction and other mental, emotional, social, supports for fear of coddling. This creates low social vocabulary and much lag in communication with adults along with other lags in mental, emotional social skills.

    Also, Males are given love and honor only when they show some achievement or strength. In addtion, the false belief the answer is to just try harder when boys are not doing well in school creates more harsh ridicule and discipline from parents and teachers when they are not achieving. This leaves many boys seeking love honor through sports, video games, and stunts. This drives them further away from education.
    The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket, the more set in place the treatment to make Males tough and also more allowed anxiety catharsis allowed upon those Male children. This creates a larger lag for those Male children in those areas.
    The girls are receiving very kind, stable, mental/emotional/social support from infancy through adulthood by parents, peers, teachers, others. This also entails much verbal interaction and other more proper trust, communication, and care from those around them. This continues through adulthood. This creates very low layers of mental work and higher social vocabulary necessary for independent reading (boys have the opposite of this). This treatment creates many wonderful accumulation of skills over time for girls, later women.
    Girls in lower socioeconomic areas, while may not receiving as much knowledge and skills are still receiving roughly the same more proper, kind, caring, mental, emotional, soical, support and care from infancy onward. This maintains all the good things girls need although they are living in lower socioeconomic environments.
    Unless this differential treatment is changed, there will be a critical point in time where boys/men will be unable to compete adequately as a group. This could create a powerful reaction by Males in general toward society in the future.

    1. Wonder2win1 year ago

      This is very insightful and makes a lot of sense. Although I’m sure there would probably be some that read it and disagree simply because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the lazy, unengaged male who just doesn’t try and the obviously mentally and emotionally superior female.
      On a side note, I think that a part of the problem is that everybody knows that girls mature faster so they use that(subconsciously) as an excuse to wait until it’s too late to get males on a level that can allow them to adequately keep up with females.

      1. Jean-Christophe Perrault5 months ago

        “Everybody knows that girls mature faster”… I wonder if this is true. I have noticed a tendency of society in general to overstate women’s strength and minimize men’s. Looking at debt and bankruptcy rate for women, I would actually argue that women mature a lot later than men. We just say they mature faster because they start acting like women (the mature way) a lot younger than men. Usually if there are no stats, people claim that women are better at it until stats show otherwise. Everyone knew that women were better with money until it was studied, everyone knew women had a higher pain tolerance threshold until we found out otherwise, We knew women were more charitable and responsible…. Anyways I now have my doubts about all those “we know women are better than men at this!!!” it looks like women are just a lot better at PR.

        1. Duckworth Ann3 months ago

          Yes, the belief girls mature faster than boys is occurring but due to sociological, not genetic reasons. The aggressive treatment given boys (to make them tough) from one year onward creates higher avarage stress that is maintained. This creates higher maintained fear, preparatoni for defence, agitation, etc all to create that toughness. This also creates more social/emotional distance from adults/others/teachers. Boys are also not given kind stable, verbal interaction or other good mental/emotional/social supports for fear of coddling. This and the aggressive treatment creates more activity for stress relief; higher muscle tension that hurts handwriting; and the combination of higher average stress/low social vocabulary/poor knowledge skills of communication hurts reading/motivation and hurts communication with teachers on levels necessary for understanding. This can easily create more learned helplessness in school and many more failures – except for those few Males who come from more stable and knowledge/skill supported homes.
          Since we as girls by differential treatment are given much more positive, continual, mental, emotional/social support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls compared with boys. We enjoy much more continuous care and support from infancy through adulthood and receive love and honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things: lower average stress for more ease of learning. We do enjoy much freedom of expression from much protection that makes us look less stable at times. Of course we can also use that same freedom of expression to give verbal, silent abuse, and hollow kindness/patronization to our Male peers with impunity knowing we are protected. We enjoy lower muscle tension for better handwriting/motivation; higher social vocabulary; lower average stress for reading/motivation; much more positive, trust/communication with adults, teachers, peers; and much more support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the more amplified the differential treatment from a young age and increased and more differentiated over time. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society, we are enjoying even more lavishing of love and honor, while boys and men are still treated to be tough are failing more and so are being given even more ridicule and abuse by society and yes, also by girls and women.

  10. Baltazar A. Acevedo, Jr2 years ago

    Mark and Ana,

    I truly appreciate the outstanding research that you conduct and disseminate on behalf of the Pew. I rely on your updates to both inform me and to guide my research.

    Best wishes.

    Baltazar Acevedo y Arispe, Jr., Ph.D.

    1. Marlene2 months ago

      I do not understand the percentage table. What do they represent? They do not equal 100.