CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research

Multimedia

En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press It's the Dispersion Stupid: Why Men Don't Go to College

It's the Dispersion Stupid: Why Men Don't Go to College

Print
Thursday, 21 March 2013 12:55

The NYT tells us that economists are struggling with cultural explanations for the fact that men's college enrollment rates have been lagging so far behind those of women. The issue is that we have seen a sharp increase in the gap between the wages of college and high school graduates over the last three decades. What economics tells us it that this rising return to a college education should cause more people to go to college.

This is exactly what has happened with women as their rate of college enrollment and completion has increased rapidly over this period. However that has not been the case with men, who now have much lower enrollment and completion rates.

That would seem to pose somewhat of a mystery. Why do women respond to price signals but not men? M.I.T. economist David Autor seeks to find the answer in cultural differences. While there may be some truth to his explanations, there is a more simple and obvious explanation.

My colleague John Schmitt and former colleague Heather Boushey looked at this issue a couple of years ago. They noted that there was a far larger dispersion in the wages of men with college degrees than was the case with women. In fact, there was a substantial overlap between the distribution of wages of men without college degrees and men with college degrees.

This means that while on average men will have higher earnings with a college degree than without one, for a substantial portion of men this is not true. Presumably the marginal college student (the one who is deliberating over going to college versus starting their career) is more likely to be in this group of losers among college grads than the typical college student who never contemplated not attending college.

Since there is a much greater risk for men than women (who don't have the same dispersion of wages among college grads) of ending up as losers by going to college, it should not be surprising that fewer men than women would opt to go to college. So the story is really simple, you just need a bit of economics and statistics to get there.

Comments (15)Add Comment
...
written by LSTB, March 21, 2013 3:25
The problem I have with these "college premium" studies is that they never acknowledge the population columns in the CPS tables.

In fact, according to table P-28 (http://www.census.gov/hhes/www...al/people/), the share of 25-34-year-old men who have nothing more than a high school degree has dropped from 50% to 40% between 1991 and 2011.

So men are going to college and they're earning as much as if they hadn't? Sounds like credential inflation to me.

(Shh... Don't tell the College Board.)
Have Men Been Made Less Manly by More Adaptable Women?
written by Last Mover, March 21, 2013 3:27
Is it that rational? Do risk averse men respond to price signals in terms of future earnings that vary more than for women by not taking the risk of going to college?

For example, from the NYT article:

One set of supplemental explanations holds that women are easier to educate or, as the journalist Hanna Rosin wrote in “The End of Men,” because women are more adaptable. Professor Autor writes that such explanations are plausible and “intriguing,” but as yet unproven.

He disagrees entirely with the view of the conservative analyst Charles Murray, in “Coming Apart,” that men have become “less industrious.”

“We’re pretty much in agreement on most of the facts,” Professor Autor said of Mr. Murray. “But he looks at the same facts and says this is all due to the failure of government programs, eroding the commitment to working. And we’re saying, what seems much more plausible here is that the working world just has less and less use for these folks.”
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
wow ignoring the facts...
written by pete, March 21, 2013 6:09
Several recent articles regarding the increased education of women, and the fact that in early years they outperform, setting them up for success later on. This is just the result of positive role models for women who perhaps used to feel like they should not be smart...Boys need more exercise, etc., to try and stay focused.

This is really just the failure of high schools etc. to accommodate differing needs. Some private schools are now 60% female, and this is simply due to SATs etc., nothing else. It is not a choice by men, it is they are not as ready.
Wage Dispersion Data is from Current Population Survey
written by Dean , March 21, 2013 6:14
Urban Legend,

You can't just wish data away. If you have some reason for thinking the numbers are wrong I'd be interested in hearing it. But it has to be something more than you don't like them.
...
written by watermelonpunch, March 21, 2013 6:29
Oh my word. You don't need any statistics or economics. All you have to do is actually live in the world, talk to people, and you know notice what's going on with your fellow humans.

No offense to Schmitt & Boushey's work... which of course is important.
But I thought this was obvious:
They noted that there was a far larger dispersion in the wages of men with college degrees than was the case with women. In fact, there was a substantial overlap between the distribution of wages of men without college degrees and men with college degrees.


My whole life I've known men without college degrees making far more money than a lot of women WITH multiple advanced degrees!!
Between male dominated professions, the glass ceiling, sexism, and just plain the fact that a lot of strenuous labour that pays more than the general labour, is done by men... This should not be surprising to ANYONE.

In the area I live in, plumbers & painters often make more than some women I've known with masters degrees!
I've known forklift operators working in warehouses making more than some nurses.

There's just a lot more "traditional" job options for men that pay more than for women without higher education degrees.

It's a no brainer! Why is anyone confused about this??
Male labor pays more than female labor
written by Jennifer, March 21, 2013 11:00
@watermelonpunch
"There's just a lot more "traditional" job options for men that pay more than for women without higher education degrees. "
Exactly--historically women have been excluded from these jobs and even now those jobs are very hard for women to get into even if they think about it--most don't. "Traditional" female labor jobs are things like housekeeping (unionized in pockets), babysitting, home-care-aides and the like (not unionized at all). If women want to make any kind of money at all they have to get some education.
Winning is important
written by GSo, March 22, 2013 6:21
I have no link to it, but there was research published some years ago that looked at what happened in a class when a very bright newcomer arrived. If the newcomer was a girl, the average of the original girls rose. If the newcomer was a boy, the average of the original boys would decline. The explanation was that you get the best out of boys when they can belive in winning. Enter a new star kid, the former top kids would loose interest, since there was no chance of winning. Boys are hard to motivate if they sees no chance of winning. It is smarter for them to redistribute the effort to another venue with better odds for winning the game (and the girl).
Rosin, Brooks, etc.
written by David Green, March 22, 2013 10:19
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www...03_163.htm

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032011/perinc/new03_289.htm

What is so hard about figuring out that women stopped gaining real income in 2000 or so, and are stuck way behind men, who've been stuck since 1970?

Here's an unpublished letter I sent in response to David Brooks' column about Rosin:

David Brooks (9/11) claims men "failed to get the memo" regarding education and earnings. Data from the federal Current Population Survey from 2010 do not support that assertion.

Among males 25-34, over 27% had Bachelor??Ts degrees or higher and worked. Their median earnings were nearly $50,000. Among females 25-34, 31% had Bachelor??Ts degrees and worked, with median earnings of over $40,000. For all males, median earnings were $32,500, in contrast to $27,500 for females.

Brooks' alarm about the decline in male labor force participation is also decontextualized. While 25% of all women in this young age group had no earnings in 2010, the same was true for only 14% of men.

The compelling stories are still about general unemployment, stagnant earnings for men and increasingly women, and still lagging earnings for women when compared to men. Collectively, it is not clear how more higher education addresses these problems.
...
written by gman, March 22, 2013 11:31
"written by urban legend, March 21, 2013 2:54
Why should there be any difference in the wage spread between college-graduating women and men? Without a plausible theory for this difference, shouldn't we also question the data?"

Know many female cops, firefighters, plumbers and electricians? Professions like these give non college educated men an option to earn living better than many college educated males. Non college educated men have more options.
...
written by Kat, March 22, 2013 12:11
Exactly--historically women have been excluded from these jobs and even now those jobs are very hard for women to get into even if they think about it--most don't. "Traditional" female labor jobs are things like housekeeping (unionized in pockets), babysitting, home-care-aides and the like (not unionized at all). If women want to make any kind of money at all they have to get some education.

Jennifer,
I think the real problem is why is the home health aide or childcare worker not paid as well as say, a deliveryperson for a beer distributor? Hint: I don't think it has a lot to do with skill set.
...
written by Rademaker, March 22, 2013 12:53
Might another reason simply be that there are more women without college degrees that decide to get one after all in their later years? A catch up growth effect of sorts?
related point?
written by David, March 22, 2013 2:28
I can't find the link again, but I did read that part of the reason women don't go into science and math is that, for those women who are equally gifted in language skills as math skills, they have greater opportunities in other fields. Women better at math than language tend to gravitate into the math and science fields (their strength). The same effect occurs in males to a lesser degree, partly because men do worse in language skills than women, overall. In any event, there are greater economic opportunities for the skilled-in-both. What would be interesting is to study the wage dispersions by gender over job type (this may be possible for a small sample of job types).
...
written by urban legend, March 22, 2013 11:30
To Dean --

It has nothing to do with either wishing the data away or not liking it. It just seems to make no sense (in contrast to disparity of mean or median wages between men and women makes perfect sense for historical reasons). That doesn't mean it doesn't make sense or that it's wrong, but when data produces a result that seems to defy common sense, with emphasis on the word "seems," one should also question the data -- how it was collected, random or representative sampling, sample size, statistical significance, etc. -- before simply accepting it as gospel and jumping to conclusions about it. Data can be wrong, too.
@kat
written by Jennifer, March 23, 2013 10:39
Oh I totally agree that's the problem. But many of the traditional male non-college jobs are unionized and that makes a huge difference.

Write comment

(Only one link allowed per comment)

This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comments.

busy
 

CEPR.net
Support this blog, donate
Combined Federal Campaign #79613

About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

Archives