Kay Steiger

The Gender Educational Gap

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Today Inside Higher Ed has a piece about a working paper out of the National Bureau of Economic Research on how the gender achievement gap—often referred to as the “boy crisis”—is the greatest among the wealthiest students. What’s long been known is that women tend to have higher educational attainment than their male peers. (For more background on the so-called “boy crisis,” read what Sara Mead has to say on this debate.)

The paper found that white women are 11 percentage points ahead of their white male peers, black women are 9 points ahead, and Hispanic women are 6 percent ahead. The authors of the paper offer several possible explanations for this:

1) They speculate that teachers of similar backgrounds to their students have an easier time connecting with and motivating students to educational attainment. Because teachers tend to be mostly white women, the authors reason, this may have some impact on the white female students in classrooms but less of an effect on the non-white or male students in the classroom.

2) They note that even in the face of smilar family circumstances, boys and girls react differently. The prevalence of  single-parent households, headed mostly by women, and research has shown that educational attainment in boys suffers without a father (or fatherlike figure).

3) Perhaps most compellingly, the authors point out that educational attainment seems to have a greater economic return for women. They also point out that, though it’s too early to tell, women who are highly educated are more likely to be married, and speculate this may also have an effect.

In other words, the explanations for this gender gap are complicated. But perhaps more compelling than the findings about the gender gap is this data point reported in the IHE piece:

The disparity in the 1979-1980 cohort between the lowest income group and the highest income group entering college is 50 percentage points, the paper found.  That number is “enormous,” [co-author of the study and associate professor of public policy and of education at the University of Michigan Susan] Dynarski said, and it’s a trend that continues to grow.

So while the authors note that the gender gap is concerning, I might argue the greater concern lies with the income gap on educational attainment. Furthermore, while women are reaching higher levels of education than ever before, that’s not yet translating into a disappearing gender gap. As previous research has shown, women generally have to achieve a PhD to earn the same as most men with bachelor’s degrees.

Written by kaysteiger

December 6, 2011 at 4:37 PM

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