As new college coeds get ready to start school, chances are they’re going to notice that there are fewer men in their classes. In fact, the discrepancy stands at about 57 percent women to 43 percent men. Women began to exceed men in college enrollment in the early 1980s and that shows no signs of changing. So what’s the deal? Guys not smart enough to get in and then handle the rigor of college?
Researchers are telling us that the discrepancy may not be about lack of intellectual prowess or lack of academic ability, but about the kind of home guys grew up in. Growing up in a home headed by an unwed mother or divorced mother places boys at a significant disadvantage in academic pursuits and that disadvantage manifests itself at the earliest stages of development.
Economists from the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore focused their research on “non-cognitive deficiencies” and found a statistically significant relationship between school suspension and the likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and going on to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Seems that “non-cognitive deficiencies” associated with school suspension are significantly more common among boys than among girls. Boys were more likely to engage in disruptive and acting-out behaviors such as aggression and delinquency. Not particularly surprising.
But here’s where the family breakdown component makes itself known.
Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavior deficit. Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly. For example, the gender gap in externalizing problems when the children are in fifth grade is nearly twice as large for children raised by single mothers compared to children raised in traditional families. By eighth grade, the gender gap in school suspension is close to 25 percentage points among children raised by single mothers, while only 10 percentage points among children in intact families. Boys raised by teenage mothers also appear to be much more likely to act out.
Seems boys are much more severely impacted than girls. “The most robust difference across family structures appears to be with respect to the emotional distance: single mothers appear especially distant from their sons,” states the study. The researchers acknowledge that married and unmarried mothers alike are closer to daughters than their sons; but they report that the difference between the mother-son emotional gap and mother-daughter emotional gap is decidedly smaller in intact families than it is in broken families.
You combine a young man’s penchant for acting out with the disadvantage that comes into his life when his mother doesn’t marry or is divorced from his father and you have a pretty good recipe for the decline of academic achievement among young men. The sex ratio imbalance in college isn’t going away anytime soon unless we as a society become concerned about the problem, start focusing on young men and their needs while recognizing that promoting a culture that dismantles the intact family is a bad idea. Part of me thinks that the radical feminists are going to work really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
(Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan, “The Trouble with Boys: Social Influences and the Gender Gap in Disruptive Behavior,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 17541, October 2011.)