Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (2023)

When college enrollment numbers came in that fall, we learned that for every man there are now almost two women attending college. These numbers indicate the highest recorded gender disparity in favor of women observed in US college enrollment. The media discussion that followed (for example, see thisWSJ-Articles) has been largely sympathetic to the young males and has focused on identifying possible causes of such severe gender imbalance. Questions have been raised: Are girls being given preferential treatment in high school and are boys increasingly slipping through the cracks? Has the Recent SAT Scoring Change Disproportionately Favored Female Test Takers? Are college admissions to blame?

In this blog post, we argue against these explanations by showing that the gender gap in college attendance is unlikely to reflect any sort of failure on the part of educators or college admissions officials. A more likely explanation is that labor markets reward women with relatively higher financial returns from college enrollment.

Women in college are superior to men

Let's start with the next figure, which shows how the relative undergraduate enrollment of women to men (the gender gap in enrollment) at two-year (blue line) and four-year (orange line) institutions has evolved over time.

Ratio of women to men enrolled in undergraduate colleges

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (1)

SOURCES: National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and own calculations.

NOTES: Our sample consists of colleges that awarded Title IV compliant colleges from 1970 to 2019; Data before 1986 were only available every five years. Undergraduate enrollment includes all students enrolled at these institutions, regardless of year or attendance status.

In 1970, men outnumbered women in college, accounting for 59% of undergraduate enrollments at two-year institutions and 57% at four-year institutions. This was partly due to the high number of men enlisting to avoid conscription during the Vietnam War. In fact, the gender enrollment gap narrowed significantly once the draft ended in 1973. By 1980, gender was perfectly balanced in four-year colleges, and women outnumbered two-year schools, accounting for 55% of enrollment in those institutions.

Since 1980, the female-to-male ratio in two-year college enrollments continued to increase until it reached about 1.4 in 1995, at which point it stabilized. However, the relative female-to-male ratio in four-year college enrollments increased steadily during this period, reaching 1.3 in the fall of 2019.

(Video) Why men are lagging behind women in college enrollment

All of this means that the severe gender imbalance demonstrated in recent media discussions is simply a continuation of an ongoing historical trend and that no recent policy changes (e.g. reforms in SAT scoring) explain the existence of a historical trend be able.

academic performance

A possible reason that might explain this trend is a related one in the relative academic performance of girls versus boys at the high school level. If girls consistently outperform boys in high school, whatever the reasons, it would make sense that they would progressively outperform boys in school (although this would not imply a causal influence). If that were the case, we would look at these underlying reasons.

However, there does not seem to be a systematic trend in the relative performance of boys and girls in secondary education. The next figure shows the relative SAT scores of women to men in reading and mathematics.

SAT performance: women's scores compared to men

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (2)

SOURCE: College Board.

NOTE: Values ​​are averages calculated based on seniors who had completed the SAT at least once. For the class of 2016, the average represents the results up to January 2016 and captures only the old trial.

Until the 2016 changes to the SAT, relative performance in reading varied by 0.99 and in math by 0.93, suggesting that boys perform slightly better on these tests. There is a slight upward trend in relative math scores, but the change is very small - from 0.93 for the 1970 class to 0.94 for the 2016 class. Changes in relative preparation for the 2016 seems unlikely College explain why many more women are enrolling in college today. If anything, girls still lag behind boys in SAT scores.

However, in March 2016, the College Board redesigned the SAT, introducing changes to the structure and timing of the various sections, the types of questions, and the scoring rules. From the second figure, it is clear that girls' relative performance on the SAT in Class 2017 has skyrocketed, although they remain slightly behind boys in their overall score. One possible reason girls have benefited more from this change is that the College Board has attempted to make the SAT more consistent with the high school curriculum, thereby rewarding successful study habits developed in school.

This increase in women's relative performance on the SAT in 2017 (the second panel) coincided with the increase in their relative enrollment (the first panel), so some causal influence is possible in this case. It would work by helping women be more competitive in the college admissions process. And, of course, better access to higher quality schools would increase enrollment.

Relatively higher returns for college education

Still, the upward trend in women's relative enrollment existed before the 2017 SAT reform, and it's important to understand the forces behind it. We argue that women make greater financial gains by entering college—this is the most likely explanation for why they now have more men than men in college.

(Video) More Women Attending College Than Men Will Create Next Crisis in Society?

To show that women enjoy higher financial returns from college, we examine the variations in real hourly wages among 30- to 40-year-old full-time workers in the 2015 census data. The results of the regression estimates are shown in the table below.The estimates are all statistically highly significant; We omit standard errors for the sake of simplicity.

Male hourly wage Difference in women's hourly wages in relation to men's wages
Those with only a high school diploma 11,93 $ -24,4 %
Wage differential for those with an associate degree versus those with an HS diploma 22,3 % 5,3 %
Salary differences for bachelor to HS diploma graduates 62,2 % 5,3 %

SOURCES: 2015 ACS data and authors' calculations.

NOTES: We regressed log real hourly wage (in 2015 dollars) on indicator variables for gender, associate degree, and bachelor's degree, and the interaction terms between each degree type and gender. Using 2015 census data, we consider 30- to 40-year-old full-time employees with at least a high school diploma. Full-time employees are those who have worked more than 30 hours per week and 35 weeks per year.

The first column contains the statistical results on educational group indicators - the university degree represents the starting group. It shows that male workers with a high school degree made an average of about $12 an hour (2,478 in logs) in 2015. Male workers with an associate degree earned 22% more, and those with at least a bachelor's degree earned 62% more.

The second column shows how these estimates differ for female workers. Women with only a high school diploma earned about 24% less per hour than men in the same educational group. Compared to men, women sawan additional5.3% earn an associate's or bachelor's degree; That means women with an associate degree earned 28% more compared to women with only a high school degree, while women with a bachelor's degree earned 68% more.Granted, these numbers should not be interpreted literally as "returns" to a degree, since workers in different educational groups differ in their innate characteristics, and these differences are partly responsible for differences in wages.

What these numbers show is that more education is indeed an important way to close the gender pay gap. Entry into higher education – whether it is an AS or a BS – helps women gain access to careers where they have a comparative advantage (e.g. clerical work). Men, on the other hand, have better access to lucrative jobs that do not require a university degree (e.g. construction jobs). This seems the most reasonable explanation for why women outnumber them in college.

Why wasn't this the case in the late 1960s? Why did the number of female relatives gradually increase over time? This is because there used to be fewer married women working in the market, so the investment aspect of the college wasn't as relevant in the 1960s. As women increased their labor force participation over time, the financial returns from college investments became more important, and more women chose college to access more lucrative careers.

More generally, there is no reason to expect a perfect gender ratio at university. Women and men face different incentives and should be expected to make different choices.

Notes and references

  1. The estimates are all statistically highly significant; We omit standard errors for the sake of simplicity.
  2. Granted, these numbers should not be interpreted literally as "returns" to a degree, since workers in different educational groups differ in their innate characteristics, and these differences are partly responsible for differences in wages.

About the authors

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (3)

Oksana Leuchina

Oksana Leukhina is a research officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Her research interests include growth, labor and demographic economics. She joined the St. Louis Fed in 2017.Read more about the author and her research.

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (4)

Oksana Leuchina

Oksana Leukhina is a research officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Her research interests include growth, labor and demographic economics. She joined the St. Louis Fed in 2017.Read more about the author and her research.

(Video) In US, Fewer men going to college will lead to a 'mating crisis' with too many 'lone and broke' men

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (5)

Amy Smaldone

Amy Smaldone is a research associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Why do women outnumber men in college enrollment? (6)

Amy Smaldone

Amy Smaldone is a research associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

(Video) College Enrollment Down By Millions

(Video) Why Are More Women In College Than Men?


Do women outnumber men in college? ›

Women have overtaken men and now account for more than half (50.7%) of the college-educated labor force in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

What is one reason why more women are enrolling in college than men? ›

Colleges aggressively recruit women and award them more scholarships. More women than men work part-time and can afford college. Women generally have better high school records than men. Women generally have better high school records than men.

Why are fewer men enrolling in college? ›

There are multiple reasons why men are not as likely to attend college, both cultural and economic, but one important reason is concerning: The return on investment for receiving a college degree has declined or turned negative, especially for men.

Is it harder for women to get into college? ›

Women are not excluded en masse from higher education. In fact, they do fill the majority of seats there. And since most colleges are “open admission,” meaning that they admit all or nearly all qualified applicants, women have a better overall admissions rate than men.

Do colleges accept more girls? ›

You have to rely on yourself for that,” she said. Overall, women have higher acceptance rates than men, around 64 percent for women at public four-year institutions, compared with 60 percent for men.

What college has the highest female to male ratio? ›

10 colleges with the highest ratio of women to men
  • Our Lady of the Lake College: 83.9%
  • Lourdes College: 78.5%
  • Our Lady of the Lake University: 73.6%
  • Marymount University: 71.6%
  • Sarah Lawrence College: 70.0%
  • Hood College: 66.7%
  • Randolph College: 65.6%
  • The Boston Conservatory: 57.7%
Oct 7, 2021

Why is education female dominated? ›

Until the passage of Title IX in 1972, colleges and universities could legally keep women from enrolling in selected degree fields. Many did. This effectively maintained a pipeline of women towards a few, female-dominated professions, including teaching.

Why do more women attend university? ›

In general, girls perform better on standardized tests, have higher overall school marks, spend more time doing homework, are less likely to repeat a grade in school, have higher expectations placed upon them by their parents, and face higher economic returns to completing a university degree.

Why do females outperform males in education? ›

Teachers may unwittingly reward students exhibiting traditionally female behaviour, such as quietness and neatness, which makes life easier for the teachers, the researchers suggest. Girls are routinely given more generous grades in class than boys with the same academic abilities, according to a new study.

What gender drops out of college more? ›

In public universities, 65% of women graduate compared to 59% of men. In private nonprofit colleges, 71% more women graduate than 64% of men. In private for profit colleges, 28% more men graduate than 25% more women.

Are males or females more stressed in college? ›

Higher levels of general and academic stress were also shown to be greater in female students than their male counterparts [15, 16].

What percentage of college men admit to forcing a woman into? ›

A recent study from “Violence and Gender” found that nearly 32 percent of college male participants said they would “force a woman to [have] sexual intercourse.” When asked if they would “rape a woman,” that number dwindled to 14 percent.

Where is the highest female to male ratio in the world? ›

Worldwide, the male population is slightly higher than the female population, although this varies by country. As of 2021, the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, under the control of China, has the highest share of women worldwide with 54.2 percent.

Do females perform better academically than males? ›

Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies. What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

Are educated women less likely to marry? ›

In Figure 1 we see that up into the 20s, the more education you have, the less likely you are to have married, with college graduates the least likely and those with less than a high school education the most likely.

Why is all girls college better? ›

Self-esteem & Confidence

Also, at an only girl's college, girls are allowed to take part and handle different situations, right from attending home science classes to participating in football tournaments, which is quite a welcome change.

Is it harder to get into college as a male? ›

Colleges Where Women Have an Admissions Edge

44%), Georgia Tech (28% v. 17%), and Caltech (11% v. 5%) all have a much higher acceptance rate for young women. MIT's acceptance rate for women is more than double that of male applicants (11% v 5%).

What is the point of women's colleges? ›

Traditionally and today, women's institutions focus on social justice, gender equity, and female empowerment. An advanced education at a women's college that prepares graduates to break barriers and shape the future can serve as a vital steppingstone for women in leadership.

What majors are female dominated? ›

Women tend to major in the Humanities and Languages, but also in Sociology and Psychology and in Biology-related STEM fields. Men tend to major in Business, Social Sciences, non-Biology-related STEM, and Philosophy.

Who has the lowest male to female ratio? ›

Hong Kong has the lowest gender ratio of 84.48, followed by Martinique (85.01). Curaçao, Nepal, and Guadeloupe are in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions, respectively.

What state has the best female to male ratio? ›

Here are the 10 states with the highest sex ratio: Alaska - 109.2 males per 100 women. North Dakota - 104.9 males per 100 women. Wyoming - 103.9 males per 100 women.
Sex Ratio by State 2023.
StateSex Ratio
North Dakota104.9
South Dakota101.5
47 more rows

What are the main gender issues in education? ›

The lack of knowledge, awareness and acceptance of the reality of girls and women, their different needs and competencies, leads to sex stereotyping and other hidden forms of discrimination (sexist curricula and syllabi, textbooks, teaching materials, sexist language and interactions, sex-stereotyped guidance and ...

What is the main obstacle of women's education? ›

Cost. Poverty is the most important factor that determines whether or not a girl can access education, according to the World Bank. Even in areas where parents don't have to pay school fees, it can be difficult to keep up with the costs of transportation, textbooks, or uniforms.

What is the biggest challenge to women's education? ›

What are the Primary Obstacles in Educating Girls?
  • Cultural Beliefs and Patriarchal Values. ...
  • Poverty. ...
  • Early Marriage and Pregnancy. ...
  • Conflict, Violence, and Dangerous Journeys to School. ...
  • Menstruation and Female Genital Mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) ...
  • Policy level changes. ...
  • Creating Awareness. ...
  • Encouraging more women teachers.
Dec 13, 2020

Is education female dominated? ›

(Nationally, women make up 77 percent of the public school teaching force but 54 percent of principals; just one in five superintendents in the 100 largest school districts have been women over the last decade and a half.)

What percentage of college students are females? ›

In an impressive increase from years past, 39.1 percent of women in the United States had completed four years or more of college in 2021. This figure is up from 3.8 percent of women in 1940.
9 more rows
Jul 27, 2022

Who is more likely to binge male or female college students? ›

Female college students are more likely than their male peers to drink more alcohol than is recommended by government guidelines, Harvard University researchers have found.

Are girls more academic than boys? ›

The gender gap in grades was found to be greater when classes were larger, and girls were found to be further ahead of boys in technical and academic schools. None of the other factors had any significant effect in reducing the gender grading gap, leading the researchers to warn of systemic problems.

What is the largest demographic of college students? ›

51.6% of college students are White or Caucasian. 76.4% of White or Caucasian students enroll at 4-year institutions. As a percentage of the entire student population, nonwhite student attendance has increased 185.5% since 1976.


1. Male inequality, explained by an expert | Richard Reeves
(Big Think)
2. College Admission Officers, What Made You Declined A Student?
(Mainly Fact)
3. Article: Men are giving up on college. Thoughts?
(Louis Rossmann)
4. How to speak so that people want to listen | Julian Treasure
5. Suppressing a cure for more than 40 years! BURZYNSKI: THE CANCER CURE COVER-UP - FULL DOCUMENTARY
(FilmIsNow Movies & Trailers)
6. Women make up majority of first-year enrollment at UA School of Law for first time
(WVTM 13 News)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dong Thiel

Last Updated: 09/16/2023

Views: 5739

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dong Thiel

Birthday: 2001-07-14

Address: 2865 Kasha Unions, West Corrinne, AK 05708-1071

Phone: +3512198379449

Job: Design Planner

Hobby: Graffiti, Foreign language learning, Gambling, Metalworking, Rowing, Sculling, Sewing

Introduction: My name is Dong Thiel, I am a brainy, happy, tasty, lively, splendid, talented, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.