Explaining the college admissions gender gap

By J. DeVoy

Noted at Overlawyered, the University of Florida’s freshman class has 3 females for every 2 males.  Most men would like those odds, but then again most men are listless betas shut out of the “dating scene” (i.e. casual sex market), and cannot fathom using this gender ratio to access the top-shelf stuff.  When asked about this disparity, a spokesman had this to say:

 “Girls are being admitted because they are doing the things to be admitted and boys aren’t.” 

Though possibly true, blaming males is becoming passé.  From colonialism to being presumptive rapists – and, the more intelligent, the more effective the rapist – men get a bum rap.  When there’s dissension in the ranks, others blame men for being self-interested.  This is best evinced by the rise of the phrase “angry white men” across all media after 1992, shown by a cursory WestLaw search.

That women are now outperforming men in school is unsurprising, since many institutions of education have been modified to better serve them at the expense of males.  Everything from No Child Left Behind reporting to the SAT has been modified to ensure women’s results mirror men, allowing women to close the gap — or so it seems.  But, because the 2005 changes to the SAT merely removed questions men performed better on, women haven’t necessarily “gained” anything; what the test measures has been fundamentally changed in order to eliminate a gender gap.

Standardized tests are only a portion of the college admissions equation.  Letters of recommendation, GPA and class rank all factor into admissions decisions.  This is problematic for males when their teachers neither resemble nor identify with them, as a full 80% of public school teachers are now female.  While this shouldn’t matter, it does, as sound concepts such as ingroup bias explain why female teachers would give preferable treatment to female students, even if unintentionally.  Coupled with universally negative stereotypes of males as bumbling, incompetent and brutish, and it can become a daunting task for adolescent men to work closely with their female teachers, build relationships with them, and thrive in an alien environment.

The education experience itself may be stifling for male minds.  Biological and social differences make it hard for boys to sit still and behave as they are expected to, even from a young age, and punishments for failing to comply may be steep.  In the U.K., academics are realizing that the grind of coursework in lieu of more rigorous final exams is detrimental to males, leaving them feminized and demoralized upon leaving the education system.  Similarly, having to do work that men are unwilling and unaccustomed to doing has a deleterious effect on their grades, especially if such busy work like homework and a deluge of quizzes is significantly weighed in their final average.  This can also poison the well for letters of recommendation, as a perceived lack of effort or motivation and resulting low grades can sink a teacher’s ability to honestly recommend a student to his desired colleges.  American academics who’ve breached the subject have seen the same issues not just in schools, but throughout society, as male behavior merely is pathologized without being understood or channeled to more productive uses.

One does not need to be a seer to understand the uproar that would ensue if the above changes were made in reverse.  Taking away advantages from a politically unpopular group, males, seems to be quite acceptable, but is not a two-way street.  For instance, women wanted the inclusion of a provision ending gender-rating among insurers in the recent health care reform legislation, which which would spread the higher healthcare costs for women among the genders.  There is no such broad concern about gender-rating in auto insurance, though, which typically results in higher rates for men.

To reframe the debate: What good is accomplished by punishing men?  As of May 2009, 485 Fortune 500 and 972 Fortune 1000 companies were run by men, a sample size significant enough to show self-selection rather than systematic exclusion of women.  The latter, while possible within a particular company’s culture, seems unlikely to occur across 1,000 very large companies interested in having executives who resemble the markets they serve.  Another data point on this issue, the discrepancy between men and women in Nobel prizes, particularly in economics and sciences, is also illuminating.

Indeed, the regular distribution of all data points between men and women, from GRE scores to height, indicates a higher peak for women and fatter tails for men.  While more women are average and above-average then men, there’s more variance among men, both good and bad.  On the positive side, it leads to significant developments from men like Einstein, Kerouac, Newton, Bohr, Dawkins and Stephen Schwarzman.  The downside to increased variability is the higher incidence of negative pathologies among men; women are not leading the charge to ensure equal representation on death row, where they are 1% of the population.