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Education Reporter

College 'Gender Gaps': Why Worry?
Differences Between Sexes Are To Be Expected
Three kinds of gender gaps currently claim the attention of higher education officials: the trend of substantially higher enrollment of women in college relative to men; the "underrepresentation" of women in the ranks of upper-tier math and science faculty; and the lesser number of women interested in playing sports, which poses problems for colleges under the federal government's interpretation of Title IX.

In the reigning ideology of academe, differences in numerical representation of men and women are considered a pathology, something that cries out to be corrected. Yet there is no reason to think any of these three gender gaps represents a genuine social problem.

78 men per 100 women 
By 2000 there were only 78 male registrants for every 100 female registrants in degree-granting institutions, a phenomenon dubbed "the disappearing male college student" or "the Lost Boys." In Maine, which has the lowest rate of men in higher education, there were 154 women in college per 100 men in 2003. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Utah, with 100 men for every 98 women. (Bangor Daily News, 4-1-05)

Some observers have blamed the declining male-female ratio on an anti-male culture on campuses, cuts in men's sports due to Title IX pressures (more on that later), and the predominantly female leadership of elementary and high schools. Boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and there is a well-documented gender gap in reading. (See Education Reporter, Apr. 2005.)

Male enrollment hasn't dropped 
While all these observations contain a kernel of truth, closer scrutiny of the statistics reveals that male enrollment hasn't really fallen; instead, female enrollment in college has soared. Between 1967 and 2000, the proportion of men aged 18 to 24 who were enrolled in college remained essentially flat, barely declining from 33.1% to 32.6% according to Census figures. Meanwhile, the proportion of women doubled, from 19.2% to 38.4%. So women's overrepresentation on campus has not come at the expense of men.

The male-female disparity is especially pronounced among low-income students. Some 68% of college enrollees from low-income families are female, according to Jacqueline King, author of the study Gender Equity in Higher Education: Are Male Students at a Disadvantage? She explains that male students with a high school diploma can make a decent living doing manual labor, for example in the thriving construction industry.

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Other possible explanations include the much higher participation by men in the armed forces, which accept large numbers of high school graduates, and the significant percentage of low-income men who are caught up in the criminal-justice system.

The gender gap in reading is not new, although it has increased in recent years. Evidence of such a gap dates back to the 19th century and is a transnational phenomenon. British education professor Stephen Gorard examined reading scores for 22 countries and discovered gender gaps in every one. (Washington Post, 3-15-05)

College not for everyone 
Although educators should make every effort to interest boys in reading and to encourage higher education for those able and willing to undertake it, we should not kid ourselves that college makes sense for everyone. Building houses or defending the country in combat - jobs men can do far more effectively than women - is at least as honorable an occupation as sitting at a desk. Men's average earning power and accession to positions of authority still far outpace women's.

As a Colorado commentator notes, "many college graduates of all races earn less than people who rewire their houses or weld heavy equipment." (rockymountainnews.com, 8-28-05)

In short, the current gender disparity in college enrollment is not evidence of a problem except for college women seeking dates. And dates are still easy to find in engineering schools, where men outnumber women about 4 to 1 despite affirmative action for female engineers. That brings us to the second issue - the underrepresentation of women in math and science faculty.

Flaying of Larry Summers 
Harvard President Larry Summers faced a firestorm for gently suggesting last January that there could be few top-tier female math and science professors in part because of differences in "intrinsic aptitude" between the sexes. Nothing in Summers' illustrious career as an economist, U.S. Treasury Secretary and feisty university president had prepared him for feminist professors' intolerance of his views.

Not only did he abjectly apologize, he committed $50 million over the next decade to improve the climate for women on the Harvard campus. New diversity administrators and more affirmative action for women and minority faculty appear to be the chief solutions to the non-problem of women's underrepresentation on the Harvard faculty.

7:1 ratio for SAT math 800 
Lost in the feminist demands for Summers' head were some hard facts about the gender gap in math test scores and enrollment in advanced math and science courses. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, emerged from scholarly seclusion to point out that based on a large-scale sample of mathematically gifted youths, there appear to be about seven times as many boys as girls who score in the top percentile (800) on the SAT math test. (Commentary magazine, Sept. 2005)

The 2005 ACT test results show three times as many boys as girls in the 33-36 range for math (36 is the top score), and twice as many boys as girls in that high range for science. (Confirming the reading gender gap mentioned earlier, girls easily outnumbered boys in English and reading scores in the 33-36 range.)

Boys have long outperformed girls on average on math tests, but the difference at the high end is much more striking. The pool from which Harvard math and physics professors is drawn is probably a high subset of SAT 800s and ACT 36s.

Many more boys in AP math 
Recent statistics from Massachusetts corroborate some enduring differences between boys and girls regarding math. Girls scored an average of 36 points lower on the SAT math test last year (which is scaled from 200 to 800), and Advanced Placement math classes in Massachusetts schools contain twice as many boys as girls. (Boston Globe, 6-5-05)

So there is nothing surprising about the fact that fewer women than men are deemed qualified to teach math, science or engineering at Harvard, and Summers' $50 million diversity initiative is money down the drain. It is about as futile as efforts to interest as many women as men in playing college sports.

Title IX futility 
Colleges were required to make the male-female ratio in their sports programs equal to the ratio in their student bodies under a novel interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act by the Clinton administration in the 1990s. These rules have become even more onerous as female enrollment in college has risen as described above; the current nationwide ratio is about 56% female to 44% male.

All over the country, colleges failed to find enough women athletes and were forced to terminate men's teams. Such high-demand, successful programs as the men's swimming and diving teams at UCLA (which produced 22 Olympic medalists) and men's baseball at historically black Howard University bit the dust. Wrestling was a particular casualty of this policy, with 171 colleges dropping their wrestling teams despite wrestling's low cost relative to other sports.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision holding that the Department of Education's Title IX rules were not directly to blame for cuts to men's teams in various sports, chiefly wrestling, at colleges since the 1980s. The appeals court for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the coaches should take up their complaints with the colleges, not with the federal agency. The plaintiff organization vows to continue its fight. (National Wrestling Coaches Association v. Department of Education)

Even women's teams aren't safe 
The Title IX rules have even resulted in the elimination of some women's teams. Some 100 women's gymnastics teams (which are small) have been axed in favor of large-squad sports such as rowing.

The Bush administration last spring relaxed the Title IX rules slightly by permitting e-mail surveys of student interest in sports to establish compliance. (See Education Reporter, June 2005.) This is a start, but does not address the fundamental error of assuming that men and women should be equally represented in all human endeavors.

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