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The New Gender Gap

Dennis Friedman, 3:53 am ET

IF I WERE STARTING my career all over again, I don’t know how well I’d fare in today’s economy. By contrast, if my dad were alive, he wouldn’t have any trouble finding work. He was good with his hands and could fix anything. He was a machinist by trade, but he could’ve easily been an electrician, plumber or carpenter.

All the disasters we’ve endured during the past few years have created an explosion in skilled, well-paid, blue-collar jobs. These are the folks helping to rebuild lives that have been upended by natural disasters such as wildfires and flooding. The pandemic has also created demand for these workers, as families seek to make their homes more comfortable and to create space where they can work remotely.

That brings me to the recent news—that far more women than men are attending college. Women currently make up almost 60% of college students. On a recent newscast, they said this gender gap will lead to twice as many women as men graduating from college. The reason: Men are more likely to drop out.

Aside from a boom in trade jobs for young men, the newscast mentioned other reasons for the disparity in college attendance:

  • For women without college degrees, there are fewer good-paying jobs.
  • More men seem to be deterred by the high cost of college and the insufficient return on this “investment.”
  • Rising anti-intellectualism, especially among men.
  • High school boys are spending too much time on video games, leaving them unprepared academically for college.

An expert on the newscast argued that the more people we educate, the more competitive we’ll be as a country. That seems reasonable. But there was one thing the expert said that did surprise me: He claimed that college-educated women are often reluctant to date a man with less education. If he’s right, that might spur some men to rethink their decision—and take a second look at college.

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Langston Holland
Langston Holland
8 days ago

It may be that cries of rising anti-intellectualism are largely attempts to shame political, philosophical and scientific opponents into submission, or at least silence. Men especially tend to resist such force.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
8 days ago

Interesting article Dennis. I’ve wondered if all that video game playing would lead to more trained IT specialists, but it does not appear to be so. IT support seems like the next skilled trade, and one that may be attracting more women. “Rising anti-intellectualism” scares the hell out of me.

IAD
IAD
8 days ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

There is a desperate need for those with cybersecurity skills, so much so that my employer is paying a 25% annual retention bonus. Unfortunately, video game playing only makes one proficient at playing video games, so the pool for those with cyber skills is dismal at best. Fortunately we are hiring more females to help bridge the gap, but that is not enough. College is not a necessity for all cyber jobs, but being willing and able to learn seems to be the stumbling block. Sad and frustrating…..

Last edited 8 days ago by IAD
Ormode
Ormode
8 days ago

If you are the sort of lad who gets double 800s on the SAT, the world is now your oyster. Colleges need boys to fill their classes, and you will get many attractive offers. Companies may spin a line about hiring women and minorities, but they also know they need smart, educated workers.

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
8 days ago
Reply to  Ormode

Maybe. Not sure we’re at that point quite yet.

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 days ago
Reply to  Ormode

The world needs skilled people with common sense, the ability to think, work with their hands and communicate even those who never heard of the SAT. I worked with some highly educated people, smart I guess but no common sense, no ability to move ideas and theory to practical value and surprisingly little appreciation for human nature.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
8 days ago

A lack of work ethic i.e. laziness is being disguised by playing the society victim card…IMO.

Last edited 8 days ago by Mik Cajon
Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
8 days ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

This appears to be a rather… lazy.. take on the issue.

“In 1970, 32 percent of men 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, a level that was most likely inflated by the opportunity to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. That percentage dropped to 24 percent in 1978 and then steadily grew to a stable 37 percent to 39 percent over the last decade.” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/09/upshot/college-admissions-men.html

More men are going to college than ever. It’s simply that attendance by women has grown at a faster pace than men. This hardly seems surprising given the decades of focus on helping girls and women succeed.

I have wondered if we need to rethink education somewhat for men. Certainly many studies point to differences in how boys and girls learn, and to the extent those studies are confirmed, that knowledge should be employed.

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 days ago

Hey, can’t women be electricians, plumbers, etc? Give me a minute, I have to look up “anti-intellectualism.” For generations men married women without degrees or jobs for that matter – and they did a darn good job raising the next generation – and now women are being snobbish about it? That seems rather unfair.

Seriously though, being prepared for college or rather not being prepared is a serious problem which frequently ends up making the money spent on college a bad investment. College is not the guarantee of anything except the perception of being educated which too is questionable.

I look at proficiency scores across the Country in the basics of math, reading and writing skills and I shutter, never mind any understanding of history or economics. Seems to me we would be far better off to focus on raising the skills of all students rather than the on the myth that going to college is the secret to success for everyone.

parkslope
parkslope
8 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Unemployment Rates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Unemployment Rates by Education
In general, workers with lower levels of educational attainment have higher rates of unemployment. This pattern has been amplified during the most recent recession. The unemployment rate for workers with less than a high school diploma peaked in April 2020 (21.0%), which was higher than the peak for those at all other education levels. The July 2021 rate for workers with less than a high school diploma (9.5%) was also higher than the rate for all other education levels. Workers with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, the highest educational level classified here, had the lowest peak unemployment rate (8.4% in April 2020) and the lowest July 2021 rate (3.1%) among all education levels.

This report also found that the April 2020 and July 2021 unemployment rates for high school grads were 17.3% and 6.3%, and the rates for those with associate degrees were 15% and 5%.

https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R46554.pdf

A Year After a Jobs Bust, College Students Find a BoomSeniors and graduates are again in demand as companies revive recruiting, underscoring the economic premium that comes with a diploma.
Ms. Newbill, the university recruitment director for Dell, said her company was also hiring students majoring in nontechnical fields — like philosophy and journalism — for sales positions. “Sales is about the personality, not the degree,” she said.
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/08/business/economy/college-graduates-jobs.html

While the amount of knowledge that is learned in college will always be debatable, the fact remains that a college degree continues to be valuable for the average graduate.

Last edited 8 days ago by parkslope
R Quinn
R Quinn
8 days ago
Reply to  parkslope

Don’t doubt the data, but try hiring a plumber, painter or electrician or carpenter and see the costs AND the wait time. I’ve been through them all in the last 18 months. You need to plan months ahead because many are so busy.

I submit the relationship to employment and earnings and a degree is as much to do with the individual as the degree. I’m thinking the earnings averages are heavily skewed in a relatively few career areas.

parkslope
parkslope
8 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Your viewpoint is consistent with economic signaling theory which posits that employers value college degrees primarily because they signal both higher aptitude and the ability to achieve a long-term goal. As long as employers continue to believe this to be the case, a college degree will continue to be a very good career choice for many young folks.

I agree that we need many more skilled trade workers. I know that the community colleges in my area have waiting lists and that colleges also find it difficult to find instructors so I think young folks are well aware the opportunities these jobs provide.

However, the costs that customers pay for skilled work give a distorted view of the average wages skilled trades workers are paid by their employers. Some current average hourly wages: welder-$17.89, tractor-trailer driver-$20.74, carpenter-$21.46, plumber-$25.82, electrician-$25.93.
https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/skilled-trade-jobs-in-demand

I would also note that a college degree provides for a much greater variety of opportunities for job seekers than training for a skilled job.

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