And here is the next article in my old series from SwiftEconomics on economic statistics and their misuse, this time on the college enrollment gap between men and women.
Next in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series: Part 6: The Male-Female Wage Gap
Previous in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series: Part 4: Iraq War Casualties
In recent years there has been growing concern by some college administrators, public policy analysts and men’s rights groups, over what has been termed the “college gap.” The college gap represents a major reversal in college admissions between men and women. In 1970, men made up about 57% of college students, whereas in 2007, the situation had completely reversed as women accounted for almost 57% of the college population. (1) The following chart reveals the trend has been almost constant for the past 40 years:
Oh… my… God! Our despotic, matriarchal society is emasculating young men to serve the interests of the Femi-Nazi elite! Very soon, we’ll have little more than droves of blue-balled nice guys serving mindlessly at the behest of their corporate executive wives, after a long day of cleaning toilets or flipping burgers.
And when I say the statistic is completely accurate, it may lend at least some credibility to a slightly less hyperbolic version of the previous paragraph. Today, women earn far more Bachelor’s and Associate’s degrees as well as slightly more Master’s and Doctoral degrees than men. (2) Fortunately for men like myself, there is a major flaw in how this data is interpreted. When you look at this chart, what is the first thing that comes to mind? In all likelihood, if your thought was similar to mine, it was that more women are going to college and fewer men are than in the past. Or in other words, women are going to college instead of men. However, it is wrong to assume that because men make up a smaller percentage of college students today than they did in the past, that women must be taking spots previously held by men. The pie is not static; it got bigger, a lot bigger. College admission has exploded since 1970: the number of men in college has actually increased substantially and the percentage of men going to college is greater now than it was in 1970.
In 1970, there were 7.4 million college students and the United States population was just over 200 million: just under 4% of the population was enrolled in college. In 2007, almost 18 million Americans attended a university out of a population of just over 300 million, or 6% of the population. College admission has increased almost 150% in absolute terms and 50% in relative terms in just less than 40 years. In 1970, 4.4 million men attended college, or assuming the population is 50% male (it’s about 49%), 4.4% of men were attending college. In 2007, 7.8 million men attended college, or about 5.2%. Male enrollment has actually increased 18% since 1970. What makes this statistic look so alarming is that female enrollment skyrocketed from 3 million to 10.1 million, or 3% to 6.7%, a 125% increase. (3)
So what are the most probable inferences we can draw from this? What we have to realize is that, by social construct, biology or almost certainly a mix of the two, men and women tend to seek different professional ends. Traditionally, men have been the ones to go to work and little has changed in that regard. What has changed is that women work much more frequently than in the past. In 1973, 78.8% of men over the age of 16 participated in the labor force. By 2008 it was 73%; a small, but notable drop, probably due to the fact that being a stay-at-home father is no longer considered something akin to castration. For women, the percentage increased from 44.7% to 59.5%. (4) So what we are witnessing is not a drop off in men attending college, but a massive increase in women attending college. Just as we are seeing not a drop off in the number of men working, but a massive increase in the number of women working. And going to college appears to be the way that women tend to pursue a career.
Even in 1970, the number of women in college compared to the number of women in the labor force was proportionally higher than the number men in college compared to the number of men in the labor force (6.71% to 5.58%), a male/female ratio of 0.83. By 2008, that proportion had fallen to 0.63, however, this doesn’t say anything of itself as women have become more career oriented in the last 40 years and thus the widening gap makes sense. (5)
What this does show, is that the primary variable in the college gap appears to be labor force participation. We can verify this by running a regression. In statistical mumbo jumbo, if R2 = 1.0, the two variables are perfectly correlated, or they move together in the exact same proportion. When we compare the percentage of women in college with the percentage of women in the labor force from 1973 to 2007, the R2 = .9352, an extremely high correlation.*
From the above chart, we can also see that the percentage of women in college is fairly volatile compared to the percentage of women in the labor force. If we take a moving average of the percentage of women in college and then run a regression, the R2 = .9546, almost perfectly correlated.* We can also see that the trend lines run in similar directions for each time period. In 1996, women made up about 46% of the labor force and that a similar ratio has maintained ever since. (6) In 2000, women made up about 56% of college students and that percentage has also remained relatively constant. While correlation proves nothing in and of itself, such a high correlation would seem to indicate that female labor force participation is the prime driver in the college gap.
So what have men been doing all this time? Well it looks like they’re doing the same thing as before. It is true that men are more likely to drop out of high school, as well as more likely to enter the workforce right after high school. I’ve seen these statistics thrown together as evidence of a general problem, however they shouldn’t be. Dropping out of high school certainly puts one at a disadvantage; however, skipping college is not necessarily a bad idea. High school is paid for by taxes: usually you have to pay for college yourself, making it an important financial decision. And as we all know, college tuition has increased at over twice the rate of inflation for the last few decades. (7) So while the jobs available to college graduates pay more, there is a massive opportunity cost attached to going to college. Four or five years of work experience and income have to be sacrificed and often tens of thousands of dollars of debt are piled on top of that. Thus, it is not necessarily a good financial decision to spend four or five years at an institution of higher learning.
What we often forget is that income is secondary when it comes to measuring financial health. Net worth is king; always has been, always will be. Financial columnist Jack Hough created a hypothetical scenario with two people: one chooses college and one enters the labor force. Hough then uses the average cost of college as well as U.S. Census Bureau data for the average income of college graduates and non-graduates, adjusted for age. He assumes both save 5% of their income each year. By the age of 65, how does the net worth of each look? The guy who didn’t go to college has $1.3 million in savings, the guy (or gal, in all likelihood) who attended college has just under $400,000! (8) Now admittedly, the 5% savings rate is extremely generous for both college graduates and non-graduates alike. Regardless, it shows that going to college is not necessarily a good financial decision. This doesn’t mean that college is a bad idea; it opens up doors to a lot of careers that are much more fulfilling, it’s just not the best financial decision for everyone.
Furthermore, entering the workforce or going to college are not the only options after high school. One option is apprenticeship programs, such as those for electricians, plumbers, contractors, auto mechanics, etc. The number of people in apprenticeship programs in the United States is difficult to find, but the breakdown in Canada for 2001 was 197,500 men and 20,060 women, or just over 90% men. (9) In the United States, women make up only about 6-7% of apprenticeship programs. (10) In 1999, men comprised 98.5% of carpenters, 98.5% of auto mechanics and 97.8% of electricians. (11) Men also make up the vast majority of police officers, firefighters and military personnel: positions that don’t necessarily require a college degree, but can be a very solid career path. In 2009 for example, 10% of male high school graduates who did not attend college were in the military at the age of 21. (13) Again, whether by social construct, biology, or undeniably a mix of the two, men tend to favor manual labor more than women. So it is no surprise that these fields have been and continue to be dominated by men.
Finally, there’s good, old-fashioned entrepreneurship. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, “[in the United States] the early-stage entrepreneurship activity prevalence rate in 2007 was 12.0% for men and 7.3% for women.” (13) Many entrepreneurs go to college, but many do not. Some start a business right after high school or even before they graduate, or work for a while after high school and then start a business. Men, again by social construct, biology, or a mix of the two, tend to be more willing to take risks. (14) Risk taking is value neutral in itself. It can be bad in the case of say: “hey, there’s a cliff, let’s jump off it and see what happens,” or good in the case of entrepreneurship.
So what does this all mean? It simply means that when women enter the workforce, which they have done en masse since the 1970’s, they tend to pursue different professional aims than men. I am by no means saying that women aren’t risk takers or are unwilling to do manual labor, just in the aggregate, they are less likely to do so than men. Just like in the aggregate, men are less likely to seek higher education as a method of career advancement. All this elucidates is that women are becoming more active in the workforce and have chosen the types of professions women presumably prefer, whereas men continue to do what they have been doing for a long time and presumably prefer as well.
We need to get over this idea that men and women are the same other than women having an innie and men having an outie. And yes, men and women can be different and still be equal. Men can be 1+3 and women can be 2+2 or something cheesy like that. I mean honestly, wouldn’t it be boring if we were exactly the same (it would certainly make sex rather, oh I don’t know, gay**). I personally remember them telling me to celebrate diversity when I was in college.
Admittedly, this is not proof that there is not a problem. It only reveals that there are a host of lurking variables to unravel before concluding that the gap is even noteworthy. We’d have to conduct a very careful study to determine whether or not there was any “excess” in the gap between men and women. And it’s reasonable to conclude that if there is an excess, it is quite small. It could possibly even be that the proportion should be even greater than it currently is and women are getting the short end of the stick. What is important to note here is that this alarming statistic tells us very little on its own and is probably completely meaningless. All it says for certain is that the laws of supply and demand on college campuses have tilted significantly in men’s favor.
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series
Part 1: A Primer
Part 2: Income Stagnation
Part 3: All Fiat Currencies Fail
Part 4: Iraq War Casualties
Part 5: Female-Male College Gap
Part 6: Male-Female Wage Gap
Part 7: Roger Maris’ Asterisk
Part 8: Women Do All the Work but Men Keep All the Money
Part 9: The BMI
Part 10: A College Degree is Worth One Million Dollars
*The raw data is as follows:
The correlation between the percentage of women in college and the percentage in the labor forces:
95% confidence interval
R2 = .9352
Standard Deviation = .0297
Correlation using a moving average for the percentage of college women:
95% confidence interval
R2 = .9546
Standard Deviation = .0270
**Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
(1) Table A-6. Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Sex: October 1947 to 2007,” U.S. Census Bureau, School Enrollment, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school.html
(2) “Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Prepared in June 2007, Selected years, 1869-70 through 2016-17,” IES National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d07/tables/dt07_258.asp
(3) For college population see “Table A-6. Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Sex: October 1947 to 2007,” U.S. Census Bureau, For U.S. population see “Statistical Abstract of the United States 2008, Section 1,” U.S. Census Bureau, Pg. 7-8, http://www.census.gov/prod/2007pubs/08abstract/pop.pdf
(4) “Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and over by sex, 1973 to date,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat2.txt
(5) Author’s calculations, based on Ibid and U.S. Census Bureau, For college population see “Table A-6. Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Sex: October 1947 to 2007,”
(6) “Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and over by sex, 1973 to date,” Bureau of Labor Statistics
(7) Jonathan Glater, “College Tuition Rising at More Than Double the Inflation Rate,” The New York Times, October 23, 2007, http://tech.mit.edu/V127/N48/tuition.html
(8) Jack Hough, “Is a College Degree Worthless?” MSN Money, July 2, 2009, http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/CutCollegeCosts/is-a-college-degree-worthless.aspx
(9) Don McIntosh, “AFL-CIO survey says pay equity top concern of women,” Northwest Labor Press, http://www.nwlaborpress.org/2002/3-17-00Women.html
(10) “Registered apprenticeship training programs,” The Daily, November 20, 2003, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/031120/dq031120b-eng.htm
(11) “Evidence From Census 2000 About Earnings Detailed Occupation for Men and Women, U.S. Census Bureau, Pg 10 and 16, May 2004, http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/censr-15.pdf
(12) “America’s Youth at 21: School Enrollment, Training, and Employment Transitions between Ages 20 and 21, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 23, 2009, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/nlsyth.nr0.htm
(13) Ivory Phinisee, I. Elaine Allen, Edward Rogoff, Joseph Onochise and Monica Dean, 2006 – 2007 National Entrepreneurial Assessment for the United States of America, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Pg. 14, Babson College and Baruch College, Copyright 2008
(14) See Brian Cronk, “Gender Differences and Their Influence on Thrill Seeking and Risk Taking,” Bronson M.E. & Howard E. Department of Psychology MWSC, http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/365.php
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