Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gender inequality in education

Gary Becker examines the new gender inequality in US education – females do better that men at school and because they get married later and have fewer kids have become the majority gender (57%) in US college education. Men get lower grades and drop out more. The obvious question is why women do better at school? This isn’t clear – perhaps they are ‘more diligent students, less rebellious and more docile’.

The outcomes here are interesting since, as Richard Posner notes, men still dominate the workforce and wage inequalities favour men. Posner accepts that women are more ‘docile’ than men who are likewise more ‘aggressive’ and hence less open to new educational experiences but again asks why this is so.

One speculative explanation suggested by Posner rests in the decline in the disciplined ‘patriarchal’ family (due to increased illegitimacy and a higher incidence of divorce) which might be ‘harder’ on boys than girls. If dad isn’t around maybe boys become more unruly than girls and do worse at school.

Maybe too because boys can more easily get into a wide range of well-paid jobs than girls that they have less incentive to invest in their human capital.

A quick flip around the web didn’t yield much more than a general confirmation that these patterns also exist in Australia although my casual observation suggests they do.


conrad said...

I'm sure that will cause a pile of social problems sooner rather than later. There's definitely some effect caused by (a) curriculum changes -- almost all Western nations have dumbed-down stuff that used to favor boys (like mathematics) at all levels. A good example here is graphs -- have you noticed many of your students can't interpret simple graphs anymore? This is because it is in fact possible to get through schooling without learning about them as they were apparently taken from the primary school curriculum in many places for political reasons (little girls wern't good at it -- try speaking to teachers from the 60s who can give you numerous examples of this) and (b) teaching method changes. Again, teaching methods in Western countries have changed hugely in the last few decades (its nothing like what you used to do!) -- and it seems likely that the new methods help girls over boys. Beat-and-learn learning is pretty much out now, except in East Asia (the only place boys still excel at "boy" areas like maths).

Incidentally, if your are interested in genetic differences at the good end of the spectrum, there is a good debate between Steve Pinker (for genetics) versus Elizabeth Spelke (against) that used to be and may still be on the web.

Mike said...

Tim Harford has written about education and women in the US, arguing that a lower supply of available males has driven women to compete amongst each other and strive to do better both academically and professionally. I guess you could make a similar argument in this case?

hc said...

I am inclined to agree with Conrad to some extent - curriculum changes seem to have favoured girls a bit. You are right about 'beat and learn' methods in Asia - note how Asian students here dominate in maths. I posted on this before:


though I didn't know there was a gender specific bias within this.

Your explanation sounds plausible Mike if there is a gender imbalance at school ages. I didn't know there was.

conrad said...


The figures from HK I saw was that boys did somewhat better at maths, but worse at everything else. I'm not sure about the rest of Asia.

Incidentally, the girls try harder to compete for males hypothesis makes no sense -- highly educated and successful women have lower levels of partnering than the normal population. Its the guys-go-down women-go-up syndrome (education, looks, height -- almost everything!). Its funny that its 2008 and its the same old same old for partner selection. The only one that has changed it appears is that people want partners closer in age than what used to be the case, but that's probably women not wanting older guys rather than men not wanting younger women (that's just a guess!).

Yobbo said...

What Conrad said. When women's lib came around in the 60's, part of it was all the education departments getting together and making decisions to make the curriculum more suited to girls - meaning more essays, creative writing, how-do-you-feel please express yourself about [insert topic here], less calculus and physics.