Female Enrollment to Grow Faster than Male?

Charlotte Allen covers a new projection:

College enrollment among women is expected to grow by 16 percent, compared with a growth of only 9 percent among men. The U.S. college student population is already 55 percent female, with the total number of women on campus, nearly 10.5 million, outnumbering male students by nearly 2.5 million.

I’m a little skeptical of her analysis of this trend. For one thing, she repeatedly confuses “number” with “proportion” — writing, for example, that since men tend to choose STEM fields more often than women, this new prediction means that “we can expect to see fewer and fewer college students choosing [these] majors.” In fact, what it means that we’ll see more and more students choosing these (and all) majors, but that growth in these fields won’t happen as fast as the growth in the university system as a whole.

Another issue is that she attributes this trend to (as Christina Hoff Sommers calls it) the “war against boys.” It’s certainly consistent with Sommers’s analysis, but there are all sorts of other reasons we might expect to see female enrollment outpacing male now that the barriers to female enrollment are gone. For one, women could be temperamentally better suited to college. Two, thanks to their greater physical strength, men have options women don’t when it comes to non-college-requiring jobs — so in a world where both men and women are expected to work, more women will find college to be the best choice.

I have yet another theory that relates to the distribution of IQ. While the male and female average IQs are roughly the same, men are more likely to be very smart or very dull than women are, whereas women cluster more closely around the average. Back when college was very rare and limited to the best and brightest, men predominated in the population that was smart enough; now that more than 50 percent of high-school grads go to college, that factor is dead — and from this alone we should actually expect more women than men to be in college. (When college enrollment pushes further into the population, it’s mainly picking up people with IQs around average, which are mostly women.)

Finally, of course, is the skepticism I and many others have about the overall trend — regardless of the gender balance, why are more kids going to college?

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