Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Richard Whitmire entitled “The Lost Boys.” Whitmire’s point is that because a smaller and smaller percentage of young men are going to college, the country is in danger of losing out on entrepreneurs and inventors.
Whitmire writes, “women remain less inclined to roll the dice on risky business start-ups or grind out careers in isolated tech labs.” True, and let’s hope Mr. Whitmire doesn’t get the Larry Summers treatment for saying that. But I can’t see that there’s anything to worry about just from that perspective, because few if any of the young men who decide against college (or never even get to the point where that decision is possible) would have become entrepreneurs or inventors anyway. We have far more serious threats to entrepreneurship and advanced technical work (such as increasing tax and regulatory burdens) than the fact that fewer academically disinclined young men are going to college.
Whitmire also repeats the standard line that “to ensure high future earnings, men and women have an equal need for college degrees.” As I’ve pointed out many times, having a college degree does not ensure high earnings. Large numbers of young people who have them are nevertheless working at jobs that can be done with just a modicum of on-the-job training and do not pay well whether you have a degree or not.
Still, this trend tells us something. As Christina Hoff Sommers observed in her book The War Against Boys, our K-12 system is becoming increasingly feminized with the notions that competition is bad and that boys need to be socialized to act more like girls. That may well be the reason why fewer boys pay attention and grasp the educational basics. So I don’t think we need to worry about the fact that there’s an imbalance between men and women in college; the thing to worry about is that K-12 is failing to provide much of an education for more boys than girls.