I have so many problems with this article the only thing I can do is give it a fisking.
Suppose you could memorize only a single demographic number and you set about choosing the one with the most far-reaching implications for change in America. You could do worse than 1.5.
Of course, there are plenty of possibilities: the birth rate, the teen-pregnancy or illegitimacy rate, the percentage of the population that is white or foreign-born, the percentage of elderly. But unpack 1.5 and you have the makings of a social inversion: a turning upside down of the male-dominated order that Americans have taken for granted since—well, since forever.
In 2007 do we really think there is a “male-dominated order” any more? Hasn’t the “male-dominated order” thing been dead since the 80’s if not the 70’s? Whether you agree with her politics or not, we have a serious candidate for President this year who is a woman. If males dominate, how did we let that happen?
The number 1.5 is, in this case, a ratio. According to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 half again as many women as men will earn bachelor’s degrees. In the early 1990s, six women graduated from college for every five men who did so; today, the ratio is about 4-to-3. A decade from now, it will be 3-to-2—and rising, on current trends.
And based on current trends the Dow will hit zero next week. Current trends are not a predictor of the future. Ask any meteorologist or stock trader.
What does this mean? And what’s going on? Neither question is easy to answer. But start with the second.
A college degree used to be a rarity: a mark of privileged or professional status. As recently as 1950, fewer than half of Americans even finished high school, let alone went on to college.
A hundred years ago there were very few professions that required a college degree. Doctor, Lawyer, Military Officer, Teacher. I think the respect was for the profession, not the degree itself.
Surprisingly, in the early decades of the last century, college attendees were as likely to be female as male. As the economists Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz, and Ilyana Kuziemko note in a fascinating 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, things changed dramatically beginning in the 1930s. Men poured into universities, first to escape Depression-era unemployment, later with the help of the G.I. Bill, then to escape Vietnam. Above all, men were responding rationally to a labor market that paid a rising premium for advanced education. By 1957, three men took home a college diploma for every two women who did.
It’s not surprising that after market distortions like the depression, WW2, the GI bill and the draft, the market for education is settling down to historic ratios.
That imbalance defined the world in which all but the youngest of today’s adults grew up. The education gap bolstered the presumption that men would dominate the professions and other elite careers; that men would boss women, instead of the other way around; that men, with their college-turbocharged earning power, would be the primary breadwinners; that, educationally speaking, men could expect to marry down.
So until the 50’s men didn’t boss women? Until the GI Bill men weren’t the primary breadwinners? Until the mid 20th Century men didn’t dominate the professions? The concept of the male breadwinner is a product of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, there was no bread to win outside of the farm. In hunter/gatherer and agrarian societies, while there there were gender roles based on strength and biological capability, there was no concept of a breadwinner simply because virtually no one worked outside the “home”.
Chapter 3 of the 20th-century story is as welcome as it is well known. Feminism, family planning (in the form of birth control, especially the Pill), and a meritocratic labor market opened not just jobs but careers to women, who streamed into the workforce and formed two-earner families. Expecting to work — and also, as divorce rates soared, worrying about having to support themselves — women also streamed to college. By about 1980, the gender gap in college enrollment had vanished. Young women had reached educational parity, with the promise of social parity not far behind.
I have no problems with this paragraph so I’ll just mis-quote Heinlein: “What woman would want to settle for social parity with men?”
The puzzle is what happened next. In the 1990s, the pattern changed again, but the surprise involved men. The wage premium for a college degree continued to rise smartly. Women responded just as economic theory predicts that rational actors would: Their college attendance rates kept climbing because the more they learned, the more they earned.
Men, however, ignored what the market was telling them: Their college attendance and completion rates barely rose. Why? “That’s the big mystery,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.
Whatever the reason, the result was a new educational gender gap, this time favoring women. There is little sign that it will close: Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show a 22 percent increase in female college enrollment between 2005 and 2016, compared with only a 10 percent increase for men.
The wage premium for some degrees rose. For other’s it’s fallen. Off shoring of jobs, especially in the IT sectors has created a situation where a degree isn’t the ticket to a successful career that it used to be. Many people, not just men, have realized that there are plenty of well paying jobs that are offshore proof and don’t require a degree. I know a master electrician and a master plumber who both make more than $100k a year and neither went to college. My degree is in Economics, but I’ve never held a job doing “Economics”. None of the jobs I’ve held since graduating from college even existed while I was in college. My current job didn’t exist three years ago. Obviously I don’t need to have a degree to do my job. People realize that the rapid changes in technology fueled by the Internet make a college degree pointless in many modern professions. Also, many “professional” degree requirements are products of limiting the competition for existing professionals. Do you think a college degree is REALLY necessary to be a supervisor or manager at most companies?
In 2006, according to the Census Bureau, about 27 million American men held a college degree; so did about 27 million American women. This is a tipping point, however, not an equilibrium, because male college graduates tend to be old, and female graduates tend to be young. Among people age 65 and older, men are much more likely than women to be college-educated. Middle-aged men and women are at parity. Among young adults ages 25 to 34 years old, the college gap favors women almost as lopsidedly as it favors men among their grandparents’ generation.
In other words, today’s young people already live in a world where, among their peers, women are better educated than men. As the grandparents die off, every year the country’s college-educated population will become more feminized. In a couple of decades, America’s educational elite will be as disproportionately female as it once was male.
Having a college degree doesn’t make someone educated. There are many ignorant people with degrees and many smart, educated people who don’t have one. Anyone heard of that college dropout named Bill Gates?
Perhaps men will wake up, smell the coffee, and rush off to college in greater numbers. Or perhaps the labor market will undergo a sea change and the premium on education will stop rising and start falling. As of now, however, both of those reversals appear far-fetched. Men might—certainly should, and hopefully will—raise their college attendance rates, but the likely effect would be to narrow the gap with women, not close it, much less flip it.
Men, and women too, will continue to do what they think is in their best interests. I don’t think you can say that sex parity in college degrees as a goal is necessary or even desirable. Individuals make the decision to attend college and graduate and they do it for a variety of reasons. You can’t lump all those decisions into sex categories and say it means anything.
Meanwhile, millions of semiskilled workers in developing countries are entering an increasingly globalized labor market, which all but guarantees a rise in the relative premium commanded by a college diploma.
There is no global market for semiskilled workers. There is a global market for skilled workers, but skilled worker does not equal college degree.
So what we are talking about, in all likelihood, is an America where women are better educated than men and where education matters more than ever. Put those facts together, and you get some implications worth pondering.
Again, college degree does not equal educated.
In 1978, when I was a freshman in college, I met a woman who told me she was in law. “Oh,” I said, “you’re a secretary?” Her gentle but mortifying reply: “No, I’m a lawyer.” Few of today’s young people can even imagine making that kind of faux pas. According to census data, a higher share of women than men already work in management and professional jobs (37 percent versus 31 percent, in 2005).
Look for that gap to widen. A generation from now, the female lawyer with her male assistant will be the cliché. Look for women to outnumber men in many elite professions, and potentially in the political system that the professions feed. (The election of a female president is a question of when, not whether.)
You can, of course, prove anything with statistics, but I wonder what relationship “management and professional jobs” has with skilled workers? I’ve been around companies large and small and I don’t see a correlation with “highly skilled” and “management”.
Women’s superior education will increase their earning power relative to men’s, and on average they will be marrying down, educationally speaking. A third of today’s college-bound 12-year-old girls can expect to “settle” for a mate without a university diploma. But women will not stop wanting to be hands-on moms.
For families, this will pose a dilemma. Women will have a comparative advantage at both parenting and breadwinning. Many women will want to take time off for child-rearing, but the cost of keeping a college-educated mom at home while a high-school-educated dad works will be high, often prohibitive.
Yet again, college degree doesn’t equal education, superior or otherwise. Also, again, a trend doesn’t predict the future. Note the language here, the use of “settle” and “marrying down”. The declarations of what women will or won’t want to do. There are just too many unfounded assumptions here.
Look, then, for rising pressure on government to provide new parental subsidies and child care programs, and on employers to provide more flextime and home-office options — among various efforts to help women do it all. Look, too, for a cascading series of psychological and emotional adjustments as American society tilts, for the first time, toward matriarchy. What happens to male self-esteem when men are No. 2 (and not necessarily trying harder)? When more men work for women than the other way around?
More predicting from trends and unfounded assumptions.
Some of these adjustments will have international dimensions. Goldin, Katz, and Kuziemko note, “Almost all countries in the OECD”—the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of advanced industrial countries—”now have more women than men in college and have had a growing gender gap among undergraduates that favors women.” Yet much of the developing world, especially the Muslim world, remains predominantly patriarchal.
Many tradition-minded cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia already regard the Western economic and social model as emasculating. Radical Islam, in particular, abhors feminism. As the United States and Europe continue to feminize, will the anti-modern backlash, already deeply problematic in the Muslim world, intensify? As sex roles and expectations diverge, might hostility and misunderstanding mount between the West and the rest?
Most women I know abhor feminism too. It’s a huge leap to equate more women having college degrees with increasing feminism and sex role reversal.
No, men are not about to disappear into underclass status. They will not become mothers anytime soon, and they will not stop secreting testosterone. Men’s ambition will ensure ample male representation at the very top of the social order, where CEOs, senators, Nobelists, and software wunderkinds dwell. Women will not rule men.
But they will lead. Think about this: Not only do girls study harder and get better grades than boys; high school girls now take more math and science than do high school boys. If there is a “weaker sex,” it isn’t female.
Girls get better grades than boys because public schools in the US are skewed toward female behavior and learning styles. Boys and girls are different. They learn differently, they play differently and they have different goals and abilities.
I’m surprised to find this sex group identity article in Reason. It belongs in a progressive website, not a site supposedly dedicated to reason and the individual.