The Gender Gap

Social norms are shifting as more women earn college degrees than men

By on January 30, 2013
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It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon when Mark Gius, 48, took his kids to the nearby park. Gius hollered “be careful” as his children sprinted toward the swing set. When he looked around for the nearest bench, he noticed something: he was the only father at the playground that day.

Gius said he accepts his role as the primary caregiver. His wife is the “breadwinner” of the family, holding a position as vice president for financial services at a large company. And while Gius is a professor of economics at Quinnipiac University, his flexible schedule and smaller earnings have him spending more time at home.

“It was very rare, even in last 10 years, for men to stay home with kids,” Gius said. “But now that more women are going to college, and fewer men are earning degrees, men will have to face up to taking on a less traditional role.”

Women have increasingly outnumbered men at universities across the nation since 1985. According to Census Bureau data, 916,000 women and 685,000 men graduated from college in 2009. This means 25 percent fewer men received college degrees that year.

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A survey done by the Pew Research Center in 2011 revealed that women tend to have a more positive view of their education. Fifty percent felt their education was extremely valuable compared to 37 percent of men.

As more and more women pursue higher education and earn a salary accompanying their degree, a debate has emerged in popular culture about whether men have a future as primary breadwinners or not.

Why the gap?

Wendy Wang, a sociologist and research associate for the Pew Research Center, said the public tends to think it’s more important for women to go to college than men if they want to get ahead. This could be a factor behind why so many pursue a degree.

“Because this is the general feeling among Americans, women feel like they need this education, and therefore do better in school. They kind of reinforce each other,” Wang said.

Wang also said that women are typically more disciplined than men, even at a young age. This makes them a good fit for a college environment, which rewards maturity, long-term strategy and a commitment to studies.

Gius has been teaching college for 21 years, and said he thinks men are are more likely to enter the workforce after high school. This is because they want to earn money right away, and therefore get a job instead of waiting four years to earn a bachelors degree.

Nicole Fano, 22, graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2012. She said because of her education, she acquired countless skills including communication and professionalism. For her, college was a no-brainer, and she is thankful for this.

“Historically, women haven’t always been allowed to gain a college education,” Fano said. “If you’ve been denied chocolate in the past, it tastes that much sweeter when you can actually eat it.”

Dr. Mala Matacin, a psychology professor at the University of Hartford, held this same view. She said that because women haven’t been admitted to college until recently in American history, this trickled down into families.

“If parents had to choose who to educate, it was sons not daughters,” Matacin said. “There are women to this day who can tell you all kinds of stories about being discriminated in education. When people struggle, they value it.”

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However, Holt Trenor, a 2011 graduate from Mississippi State University, thinks that because men typically hold higher positions than women at work, this motivates women to earn a degree. They need one in order to compete for the same positions as men, similar to what Wang argued.

Jobs & Salary

Although so many women are attending college, Gius said this isn’t the only factor to consider when analyzing certain shifts. He credits the Great Recession as a major influence.

“A lot of male-dominated jobs, such as construction and manufacturing, which are like 90 percent male, took the biggest hits,” Gius said. “Men lost jobs at a faster rate than women.”

And although men have added roughly 768,000 jobs, while women have lost 218,000 from June 2009 through May 2011 according to a Pew Research study, they are still more likely to be unemployed.

Gius does see education’s impact on this, as well. He said jobs you can get without a college degree are disappearing.

“I foresee women entering male dominated fields, like engineering, simply because they’ll have to,” Gius said. “If they are the more educated gender, a shift will happen.”

Men continue to hold more positions in important industries such as technology and politics. And women on average earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts do.

But according to a PayScale wage analysis, when comparing men and women who are similarly qualified and have the same job, women earn closer to 96 percent of what men do. The difference is due largely to career choice. Men typically enter fields with higher pay, such as a software developer, where 89 percent of employees are male. Women are more likely to be a registered nurse, for example, and account for 89 percent of this field.

A flop is occurring specifically in the younger generation, however. Wang said single women in their twenties are earning roughly 8 percent more than men, specifically in metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, G.A. (Here young women earn 20 percent more). Wang thinks this is largely due to education.

“Women are becoming the better educated gender, and are therefore more qualified for jobs that pay well,” Wang said.

This reverse only applies to unmarried, childless women under 30 working in cities. Wang said the interesting part is what will happen when these women turn 30 and perhaps have children.

“When [women] have children they typically spend more time with their children,” Wang said. “What will happen when they have families? Will the trend continue? It’s hard to tell. Maybe once they get older and families they’ll need to focus more on balancing a work and family.”

Gender Roles

A major concern for Americans is what affect this gap in higher education will have on the traditional roles of women and men.

Wang said she foresees challenges to the typical view of what makes a good partner.

“Traditionally women wanted to marry up,” Wang said. “But, if your peers are less educated, women will have to adjust what they define as a good companion.”

Gius thinks that as women continue to become more financially independent, they may not see any reason to marry at all.

“In the past women typically got married and left the work force because they had financial security that way,” Gius said. “Now that’s not the case. They are supporting themselves.”

According to 2010 Census data, 43 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 are single.

Fano, the recent Quinnipiac alum, sees the typical stereotypes for men and women disappearing, but still thinks marriage is valued by each gender.

“I’m think that college-educated students, while more likely to marry later in life, are getting married at least at similar rates as those who aren’t,” Fano said.

Only 51 percent of people are married, a 5 percent decrease from 2009 to 2010 as reported by the Pew Research Center based on Census Bureau data. But marriage is more frequent for those with a college education, and less prevalent among those without one.

Matacin said another shift is toward less defined gender roles. Men can be more nurturing and women take on more leadership positions. Although she still sees standard ideals.

“The view that men need to be strong and not show emotions very much is still there,” Matacin said. “This is why many are struggling through this shift. For women, there is also still this pressure to not only be a good parent, but succeed in the workplace and look a certain.”

Trenor, the recent Mississipi grad, feels as though one stereotype in particular has changed.

“I think our society is losing the stereotype of the male breadwinner in the family and is beginning to see men and women as equal,” Trenor said. “I think this will definitely continue if there are significantly more women going to college than men.”

Gius agreed, and think men will have a bigger challenge than women. They’ll have to realize that they will probably be staying home, he said.

“I think men will have to do more changing then women,” Gius said. “Women want to be independent, and now they are for the most part. For men, they’ve always been independent. They are going to have to make the adjustments.”

Despite the concerns, Matacin, Gius, Wang and both alumni all agree it’s a positive thing that more women are going to college today. Matacin said she prefers not to view it as a zero-sum game, where one gender comes out on top and the other is left in the dust.

“This reminds me of this quote: ‘You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman’,” Matacin said. “If women are doing well, why does that mean men are going to be negatively affected? Can’t they both do well?”

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About Catherine Boudreau

Arts & Life Editor
Email: artslife@quchronicle.com
Year: 2013
Major: Print journalism
Hometown: East Berkshire, Vt.