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My experience tells me that enhanced success of women in school and in a lot of fields has a lot more to do with their penchant for following rules and kissing ass. Indeed, I know women in my law school class and on the Law Review at UT Austin who slept with professors, an opportunity not so available to us men.

Under ass-kissing opportunity I include employment in situations where lots of things besides merit account for advancement, like any civil-service job, public-school teaching, and judgeships, or any job that runs a popularity contest or that requires that the employee be nice, look right and dress to please others. There are far fewer women in pursuits like hard science, math, engineering, film making, producing and directing, haute cuisine and haute couture, welding, cabinetmaking, and so on, for which standards of performance are more objective and where success doesn’t depend so much on those factors extraneous to actual job performance.

For that reason, women will always be well represented in the ranks of high-school math and science teachers, for example, but will mostly continue to show up missing in the list of Fields Medal winners and Nobelists and in the ranks of captains of high tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, eBay and Google, etc. The surprising thing to me is the dearth of women in judgeships, even at the Supreme Court level, where none of the members, except perhaps Breyer (in high school), has shown any distinction in any hard science, math or engineering, having without exception taken degrees in those wishy-washy academic areas like history, economics, English literature, philosophy, government and international affairs. In all of them, apart from economics, a person can get a PhD in Amerika without ever having sat through a college-level class in science, math or engineering. Perfect for women! It is even about time for a woman to become President, since, in contradistinction to England (Thatcher) and Germany (Merkel), no recent president except Carter has studied or distinguished himself in the hard sciences.


Yet another explanation is that the performance of a male student has a higher variance than a female (given all the information at the time of admission), and colleges, especially the good ones, tend to be risk-takers in admission, since it is disproportionately valuable for them to get the very top students.


"Under ass-kissing opportunity I include employment in situations where lots of things besides merit account for advancement, like any civil-service job, public-school teaching, and judgeships, or any job that runs a popularity contest or that requires that the employee be nice, look right and dress to please others."

How about the business world, which places a premium on all of the above?

"In all of them, apart from economics, a person can get a PhD in Amerika without ever having sat through a college-level class in science, math or engineering."

I don't know where you went to school, but most colleges require two or three science courses and at least one math course.

I don't know what you mean by "hard sciences" but I found the natural science courses I took in college to be graded on a much more easy scale than the social science and humanities courses. The tests in the introductory courses in every discipline were multiple choice, but in the social science and humanities courses you had to score about a much higher percentage to even get a B.

The key difference between the social sciences and the natural sciences is that the former utilize observational data and stochastic probability, and latter typically utilize experimental data and deterministic probability. But this is a generalization. Certain fields and subfields such as astronomy or population biology are entirely observational.


Judge Posner remarks: "One puzzle remains is why women have better college grades than men."

Perhaps the women simply outperform the men.


"One puzzle remains is why women have better college grades than men. One possibility is that colleges discriminate against men in admissions. For if colleges admitted blindly on the basis of academic prowess, they would keep admitting women until male and female grades were equal at the margin."

Typo? If that's the explanation, it would be discrimination against women, not men.


"Perhaps the women simply outperform the men."

They do, that's the whole point. Getting higher grades = outperforming. But if a college admits purely on the basis of academic performance, the expected performance of the average man should be the same as that of a woman - otherwise a college should be admitting more women. The question is, if colleges admit in such a way, why are average performances still different?
As a fairly recent college grad, my guess is, HS guys are way better at fooling admissions officers. A lot of us should not have been let in...


Professor Becker, could you clear this up for me?
You wrote
'One puzzle remains is why women have better college grades than men. One possibility is that colleges discriminate against men in admissions.' Doesn't the lower college grades of men imply that women are discriminated against, because at the margin they are choosing to let in poorer performing males over better performing females?

WOW Power leveling

Dear Professor Becker, God created the Eva and Adam respectively,it means that will be a lot of differences between man ane woman, i don't think the discussion about who is better is neccessary. but as a woman, i just want to say it's unfair that discrimination exsits in the society. we're not week, even strong and better. do you know "hua Mulan" who is the excellent woman in China legend.


I'm not an economist, but I'm not sure if that is my problem with Posner's first and last paragraphs. Can somebody explain to me what Posner is trying to say in the first (regarding discrimination) and last (regarding ratios)paragraphs? I didn't understand how men were being discriminated against in that example, and I thought the ratio (men-to-women) had flipped the other way. Nothing personal, but I never have trouble understanding what Becker is saying. Thanks.

Sandy Schwab

Thank you Messrs. Becker and Posner for another thought provoking blog. I note that reading Becker who is the 'economist' is always less taxing than reading Posner the lawyer. My conclusion at this moment in time is Posner is a more gifted brain -- a lawyer and an economist, and I am biased, a prince...today I got to look up 'diminishing marginal utility of money income' and Asher Meir. Becker writes from a global perspective but thinking green we must buy local. Also he brings to mind Justice Scalia's new law clerk....top grades from Harvard and blew out all grades at Standford law...maybe Eric Posner could consider afternoon tea with this lady.....they might actually understand each other for an hour or so....

David Drake

The "grade gap" between males and females should be no mystery to anyone who has taught undergrads:

Young women simply study harder and take classes more seriously than young men.

Jimbino calls this "following rules and kissing ass," which, in my experience, is typical of the attitude of many male college students.

As a former professor, I would rephrase this as "following instructions and doing the assigned work."


Prof Drake,

And what do you call "sleeping with the prof"? Or just saying "hell with it" as did Einstein, Gates and Dell?


When I remember back to my college daze, the biggest fight was keeping out of the taverns and staying away from the constant parties-social events that interfered with course work. Needless too say, large numbers of my compatriots succumbed to the temptations and weren't around in the following semesters. Most Coed's just don't seem to be confronted with that type of temptation. So it leaves them with more time to hit the books, get the course work done and in on time. Which will translate into higher grades.

The rise of the "feminist movement" may very well have something to do with it as well and the development of overt and covert feminist policy agendas within and without the government and academia. Gender wars anyone?


No one's disputing that girls do better in school, and largely for the reasons you cite: women work harder, and guys slack off. We know that. The question is, if a college truly cares about academic performance when it admits students, why wouldn't it simply admit many more women than it already does, since they do better in school? Why not simply replace all those low-performing guys in your admission class with higher-performing girls?
There are various potential answers, some of which are offered in Judge Posner's post. But there are some other explanations. It could be that colleges don't care just about academic performance, and want to maintain some sort of gender-balance in their classes for other reasons - incoming students probably want a social life, and that tends to involve the opposite sex. As a result, even though a school could improve its academics by admitting many more women, it would lose its appeal to too many students if its gender ratio were too extreme.


Haris, It all depends on where you go to college, whether it's public or private institution and the criteria for admission. Now take the public land grant college for example, admissions criteria was as follows:

1. graduate of an accredited state high school
2. have a minimum criteria GPA. in the appropriate classes
3. have a minimum criteria test score on both the ACT & SAT

If you fulfilled the criteria, you were admitted and the State had fulfilled its obligations to provide universal public education. But as I was told by my academic advisor in the first days on campus, "Yeah, your a graduate of an accredited state high school and we have to accept you, but that doesn't mean we have to keep you, NEH57605987" So much for maintaining academic performance and standards. The issue is really all about maintaining universal public access to higher education irrespective of gender, class, race, or affiliation.

David Drake


"Sleeping with the professor" is not a course assignment, at least not where I taught. A professor would and should be fired for it.

In my experience, co-eds on the verge of failing would "suggest" this as a way to raise a grade a half step or so so that they could stay in school. The best students didn't and wouldn't need to.

Also, I suspect that males and females use this method if they suspect the professor is susceptible--students in that situation use every other ploy (except for studying hard.)

Bernard Yomtov

if colleges admitted blindly on the basis of academic prowess, they would keep admitting women until male and female grades were equal at the margin.

But equal at the margin does not imply equal on average.


Wrong again, Mr Drake. A professor and student should be free to relate any way they want to, just as insider trading should be legal (Check out Milton Friedman).

You say the "best students didn't and wouldn't need to." That is a circular argument if I ever saw one. The best students in Law (as opposed to, say, Math) are those who have mastered kissing ass and sleeping with professors! There is no objective criterion.

Furthermore, even students among the "best" in terms of merit need that little extra to get on law review, no?


Perhaps men are just getting the "consideration" for admission due to the generosities of wealthy men like "Rockefeller" and "Kennedy" for giving millions to prestigious colleges.



Don't list various medical illnesses in a foreign language - be nice!


Sleeping/Kissing around + Jim Beam = He/She and vice versa + Drunk all day

Perhaps the "Monica Lewinsk and Bill Clinton" real life event will give some insight to the above debacle.

Anonymous Coward

Several commentators noted the contradiction between Posner's initial assertion of discrimination AGAINST men and his later description of factors indicating discrimination in FAVOR of men.

It seems Posner ought to either clarify, or leave readers to conclude that his personal bias has led to a Freudian slip with interesting implications. Maybe Posner's brain refuses to accept that his logic leads to a conclusion of discrimination against women?


jimbino, Sounds like "Sour Grapes" to me. Get passed over for Law Review did you? As for the "discrimination complaint", it's amazing how often it comes up during discussions of achievement coupled with gender, class, race, or affliation. Too me, it always seems to cloud the true issues of cause and effect. No wonder we never seem to be able to move forward.



Your mysogyny is showing. I suspect you need some excuse for why your "objective merit" didn't get you everything you think it should, but from our point of view, you don't sound like a meritorious person. People of character do not make such accusations about classes of people. It is NOT OK to trash the credibility of the female members of your school or law review like that. Your non-specific accusation will hurt them in some people's eyes and you should be ashamed.

You have no one to blame your failures on but yourself. Getting into UT law, based I am sure on what you feel were objective tests, does not entitle you to continued success.

Also, you are sadly deluded if you think that dressing well and getting along with others are "extraneous factors" to job performance. There are few jobs, even in engineering where I used to work, where "objective merit" will protect the career of someone with whom no one can stand to work. Even if one finds a hole to be a meritorious ass in, no one will ever promote them out of it. If you think that the CEOs of successful companies get there through "objective merit," then you need to spend more time talking with CEOs.

Of course it does not suprise me to see a young male law student overrelying on a narrow concept of meritocracy. Your worldview is merely common, we had guys that sound like you at my own (lower ranked) law school as well.


"alumni in the upper tail are likely to be disproportionately generous donors."

Because they have more money, not because of their gender. Maybe if women were the ones overrepresented in the upper tail they would be more generous than the men are now?

The effects of past discrimination cannot render current discrimination "rational." If men are overrepresented among the wealthiest graduates, it makes sense to presume that past gender discrimination in higher education -- which we know about and needn't dispute -- has contributed to the imbalance. But as both Becker and Posner admit, things have changed now in terms of numbers and performance of women in college. In 20 years, rich alumni are more likely to be women. If Harvard only admitted women for a century, then all of Harvard's donations would come from women.

Admissions decisions control who gets access to the opportunities to become rich alumni. To say that it is rational to discriminate in admission in order to favor rich male alumni misses the connection and assumes that the current imbalance is somehow natural or inevitable. Schools make their own alumni.

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