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What if the right tail of men, had better economic options then college, leaving the average GPA of men in college lower then women?


A remote possibility not mentioned by Becker nor Posner is the effect of college culture. The behavioral expectations of college males (think of the traditional activity of fraternities as an example) developed during a period of decreased competition in college (fewer people went to college, and they were competing only with other males). These lingering diminished expectations could be negatively affecting the performance of college males today by lowering their grades and contributing to their increased likelihood of dropping out. Pure speculation though.


I'd suggest that there may be some relationship between the gender gap in education generally, and the reverse gap which prevails in math, physics, and the engineering disciplines.

Generally, docility is not a desirable trait in students of the latter. The early courses (in math and physics at least where I have personal experience) strongly favor energetic approaches to problem solving over mere implementation of method, and give a good amount of "bragging rights" to the student who understands the more quickly. Clarity of understanding and intuition is prized over meticulous attention to detail, and empathy with the teacher counts for little in the end.

This approach need not be the only way to teaching a rigorous science curriculum. Early biology courses (I am told) require far more memorization and attention to detail -- and the gender ratios are much less skewed in biology and chemistry than they are in math and physics.

Al Fin

The brains of girls and boys are different. Boys learn differently. But schools are geared to girls and the ways that girls learn.

Boys need male role models. Fatherless families leave boys without role models. Early education teachers are 90% plus likely to be female. Boys need male teachers for role modeling and discipline, as well as for empathetic teaching.

The education system is geared in all ways toward the success of girls, and either indifferent or hostile toward boys. No wonder that boys fall behind.


This post raises interesting questions and I look forward to reading comments posted by sociologists who may offer insight. But I was most struck not by the issues raised about grade point averages and graduation rates, but by the important (and encouraging) fact that so many more women are enrolling in college to begin with. The same holds true in the nation's law schools, were enrollment numbers for women generally match that of men. We have certainly come a very long way since 1959, when Justice O'Conner, after graduation from law school, was offered a job as a legal secretary. The numbers underlying Becker's and Posner's posts are a tribute, it seems to me, to the country's evolution in the area of gender equality. As for the issues of male versus female performance in college, we'll see in another 40 years how this dynamic works itself out. Do we even need answers to these questions? Perhaps it is enough to let academic darwinism, as it were, take its course.

I have to go now. I have a trig mid-term in the morning and I'm all out of beer.


At least part of the gap may be due to women having more to lose from dropping out of college than men, a negative motivation.
Single women are paid less than single men. Well-paying job opportunities for an average single woman without a college degree are far fewer than those for men.
Women without college degrees are less likely to marry men with college degrees, so married women without college degrees are likely to be in families which earn less than their degree-holding peers. Even if they both work, the degree-less family is likely to earn less than the average a college-degreed man and nonworking wife.
Thus, an average woman living either single or married without a college degree is at a considerable financial disadvantage - which may at least help explain why women are more motivated to complete college.

Michael Bangert

I am surprised not to see the mention of technological innovation or global trade in this analysis.

For example over the last 40 years technological advances have greatly reduced the relative number of secretaries in offices in the US because many professionals can do much of their own secretarial work. Whereas in the past a fairly intelligent young woman could obtain a position in an office environment with just a high school education, today more positions in an office environment require a college degree so that is what the young woman pursues.

Looking at a trade example, it has been widely noted that increased international trade has had the greatest adverse impact on low skilled workers many of whom happen to be women. Textile workers come to mind here. Given the reduced prospects for low skilled workers women are choosing to pursue higher education to insulate them from competition.

To take a counter example, careers in a trade skill are essentially immune to increases in international trade and probably only weakly influenced by technological innovation so that they still provide a viable choice to a young man would would prefer not to continue his formal education beyond high school or a trade school.


Don't post until you've read The War Against Boys. It's crucial to everyone's understanding of why boys are starting to trail girls in everything. [For the most part. It's also true that the skills of the future are those that women are more innately skilled at, such as people skills.]


I wonder if men don't put less effort into grades because they will find jobs and career success on the basis of other qualities and factors--charisma, teamwork, client skills, leadership qualities, connections--that, for better or worse, come into play to a lesser degree when employers screen female applicants, for whom academic achievement is the leading hiring criterion. I seem to recall a study of Ivy League graduates that showed a weaker correlation between undergraduate grades and career success than a correlation between participation in college team sports and career success.


So there is a question here of participation rates and of performance and here are two add'l reasons:

1) Participation: as has been alluded to, men probably have more options than females, mostly in the form of options which require more physical, as opposed to mental, inputs. For example, there are many more physical (athletics) and violent (anything illegal) options available to males, especially across the lower socio-economic spectrum.

2) Performance: The proportion of men taking classes in "hard sciences/maths" where grading is generally more quantifiable and thus stricter is far greater than women. Women tend to focus more on the "soft studies" such as sociology, where paper essays are the grading norm (those being much more subjective and generally easily curved). A more interesting (and much debated) issue is why such a convergence takes place--this blog may have addressed this some time ago.


There is some evidence that men are distracted by women in the classroom, but not vice versa. Basically, men think about having sex with the women they attend class with, while women think about what the professor is saying.


The comments by James and J combine interestingly in the much noted phenomenon of increased participation of women in law school. Historically, as their participation rate rose to 50 percent in law schools their performance has remained below 40 percent for graduation in the top tenth of the class at nationally selective law schools. At the more selective, post-graduate level of education the Summers heresy of greater male variability in talent may play itself out more than at the undergraduate level.

Mary Beth

Women have too much to lose by not graduating from college. Economic self-sufficiency is very important whether married or single. In spite of being excellent students, when women get to the workplace they still earn something like 70 cents on the dollar vis-a-vis men. Is this how men even the score or are they unable to see the talents of women and thus, value them? When a woman doesn't have a degree, it is held against her. A man is not held to that workplace requirement. There are always mitigating factors that favor men.


As others have mentioned, I view this as primarily an issue of a different set of employment options available to men.

Many low-education jobs for men remain in fields that pay decently, but are physically dangerous or just generally unwelcoming to women: Automotive services, construction, resource harvesting, police and firefighters, security, combat-oriented military etc.
For men that do not enjoy school, these areas continue to provide attractive alternatives. At such as young age, the prospect of another half decade of unenjoyable schooling looms large in terms of opportunity costs, especially when your 'long run' plans stetch out maybe 10 years.


Judge Posner:

Could you write about the economic situation?

Any insights on the risk of a big bank going under and the impact that might have?

Any recommendations as to do what if anything governments should do?



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