September 27, 2005

Correcting the gender imbalance problem.

Yesterday, I linked to Richard Posner's discussion about the perceived problem of women in professional schools who say they plan to stay home full-time when their children are born. Though he did not suggest that schools should give preferences to men, some of what he said about women failing to fulfill expectations seemed to me as though it would encourage others to want to discriminate. In an update to my post, I worried about what is much more likely to cause schools to lead to affirmative action for males: the simple gender imbalance that has resulted from fewer males choosing to pursue higher education.

I detest the idea of giving preference to men to correct the imbalance, so I was glad to see this from Glenn Reynolds, saying that schools ought to look at themselves and ask: What are we doing to make men feel that they don't belong here?
There seems little doubt that universities have become less male-friendly in recent decades, to the point of being downright unfriendly in many cases. The kind of statements that are routinely made about males and masculinity in classrooms and hallways would get professors fired if they were made about blacks, gays, or many other groups.
It's assumed that males can take it, and that it's not the same thing when you're knocking the traditionally advantaged group. But whether you think that's true or not, if the gender imbalance is the school's own problem, it's bad strategy. So you could have a lot of sensitivity training and open men's centers on campus and so on. That will be extremely hard to do well. We're used to reaching out to those we've seen as disadvantaged. It will seem awkward and insincere to reach out to males in the same way. But at the very least, we can commit ourselves to ending the hostility to males, which has always been inappropriate anyway.

Reynolds entertains the notion that the real problem might be that too many women pursue higher education. Maybe too many people go to college, but more men are able to opt out because they can find better jobs without college than women can. Arguably, both males and females are behaving rationally, under the circumstances. Some of these circumstances are caused by discrimination against women in the traditional workplace. Credentialing is more important for us. Some of it is the physical difference between women and men, on the average, which makes it harder for us to get or want jobs requiring physical strength. But I'm sure some of it has to do with different preferences: more women are interested in studying and in pursuing the kind of work -- like law -- that in many ways resembles studying.

If that is so, why not let things take their natural course? Would it be a problem if, some day, 80% of law students were women? It would certainly be a social problem at the schools for many students, and the schools would suffer if students chose to go elsewhere to avoid skewing. Maybe a real tipping point would be reached if the ratio got as far off as 60/40. There's also the social problem outside of schools, as highly educated women have difficulty finding suitable partners.

We seem to be headed inexorably into affirmative action for men, which will go on with no end in sight.

UPDATE: Cathy Young, who's participating in the comments here, has a very informative post.


Bruce Hayden said...

Glenn made a lot of good points. Indeed, I think that it is a very valid criticism that despite there being a significantly greater number of women on campus, there are female studies, etc., but almost never male studies. We are the only group really that doesn't have this sort of thing, and (IMHO) are unlikely to get it in the future.

My pet peeve here is in law school, where at lot of schools have women's programs and almost never a men's program. Yet, I would argue that we need it more than women do, esp. in domestic relations. My view is that the family law courts in this country are heavily biased towards women, at the detriment of men, and that we need men's studies in law schools instead of more women's studies as a result.

Bruce Hayden said...


I am surprised that "travel and tourism" is male dominated. My experience has been quite the opposite. The others, of course, make sense.

Richard Dolan said...

"We seem to be headed inexorably into affirmative action for men, which will go on with no end in sight." Well, yes, it seems we are.

And the reason has nothing to do specifically with the case outlined by Posner, and everything to do with the logic of "affirmative action." What I find odd about your reaction to Posner is that you are so wedded (oops!) to the logic of affirmative action -- men as the "traditionally favored group," etc. -- but are uncomfortable with where that logic leads.

If the point of a college admissions program is to create a freshman class that "looks like America," there is no avoiding the idea that, once any identifiable group fails to achieve its alloted percentage of seats, "affirmative action" steps in to "right" the statistical "wrong." It's all about group rights, and so individual accomplishments, etc., necessarily are forced to take a back seat.

Yes, I realize that smart lawyers come up with lots of reasons why this or that particular group is not entitled to the benefits of affirmative action's iron logic. And the problem with all of those distinctions is that they look and sound like the weak and fundamentally arbitrary exercise in rank victimology that they obviously are.

In the Michigan cases, O'Connor wrote that affirmative action of this sort has a time limit of 25 years. Where that came from is anyone's guess. But your post, and the obvious discomfort that you feel about the conclusions that one could draw from Posner's analysis, might be a good reason to rethink whether the whole "affirmative action" notion is such a great idea.

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree with Slocum as to the biases of K-12 these days against males. One scandal in my mind is the massive over-diagnosing of over active boys as ADHD, etc., and the resulting drugging them to the level necessary for them to act like girls.

Sure, some of these boys may have a problem. But for most of them, whatever problem with hyper activity, etc. that they might have in the younger years disappears as they enter high school. Rather, they are just being boys.

I think that you can seriously question the rationale of weighting homework so much more heavily today. After all, for the most part, getting your homework done has little to do with actually mastering the material, and a lot to do with how well you jump through arbitrary hoops by the teachers.

I say this a male who didn't much like homework, esp. when it was busy work. When I could get the high grade on a science or math test, why should I do this mindless work too? So, too often, like a lot of guys that age, I didn't.

Unknown said...

Higher education is biased against males. A master's student, male, told me he wasn't sure if he was going to apply to a doctoral program--his adviser told him since he was white and male he probably wouldn't get in. This advice is been given openly, as the notion that past "victimization," manifested by matching societal racial makeup with the same in grad school, merits present day favoritism, is accepted dogma. 'Give it up for the cause' seems to be the message to men.

We have plenty of women and non-whites in the sciences and math. Some do well; some are in over their heads. Just like any grad school group. The niggling problem, tho, is what it does to men and whether it matters.

Sloanasaurus said...

I recall some recent theories that showed that on average men and women had equal intelligence, but men tended to have more geniuses and more dummies than women who tended to be more clustered towards average intelligence. If this study is correct, it would correlate to higher education enrollments for women. With men, you would have more opting out because dummies would not have the capacity for higher education and higher education may not be challenging enough for geniuses.

If Posner is right about women using up educational spots because they later become full time mothers, this will eventually lead to the decline in the institutions who enroll more women. If fewer of your alumni actually work in the fields in which they were educated, the reputation of your institution will decline over time because there are fewer professionals adding to the reputation of your institution.

If women eventually lead to dominating the legal profession, it may be just another trend that are true in other professions such as nursing and/or teaching which in the past were not always dominated by women.

Ann Althouse said...

Leeontheroad: "I am, overall, I will say, amused to note that folks who oppose affirmative action measures are all for them when they apply to men."

Who does that refer to? Obviously not me. I'm opposed to affirmative action for men.

stealthlawprof said...

I always thought I was teaching something other than trade school. I want my students to be educated in a broad, liberal sense. Law is the context in which I do this. While a broad, liberal education is available elsewhere, it is for many people most available in law school. It does not happen often or well at most undergraduate institutions and it is not very available in many graduate programs. If my students graduate and use that education to raise a family or become a filmmaker or practice law or whatever, that is fine.

With the number of law schools proliferating, it is a good thing that graduates use their education in a wide array of activities -- child rearing included. I would hate to think there is a danger of flooding the market with well-educated, intelligent people, although one has to admit the possibility of flooding the market with lawyers.

Based on that, the notion of affirmative action for men in law school is silly. Let the most qualified students come and let them do with the degree what they choose to do.

John A said...

Seems to be one VDH touched upon in passing:
*Ivory Cower*
'One can learn a lot about the pathologies of the contemporary university from what its presidents say--and don't say. A close look at the data suggests a different picture from the one implied by Mr. Birgeneau's gratuitous lamentations about the lack of diversity. Whites, for instance, are underenrolled at Berkeley: They amount to around 35% of undergraduates versus 45% of the state's population. Given this fact, why doesn't the Chancellor complain about the shortage of whites on campus?

'He is oddly quiet, too, about the more explosive issue of the Asian-American presence. This group constitutes almost half the Berkeley student population, even though Asians make up only about 11% of California residents and 4% of the general U.S. population. Why doesn't Mr. Birgeneau admit that achieving his racial utopia would require deliberately reducing the enrollment of Asian-American students--presumably by discounting meritocratic criteria and test scores and instead emphasizing "community service" or other nebulous standards designed to circumvent Proposition 209? But because the new chancellor is obviously a sensitive sort, he cannot say what he apparently means: something like, "We have too many Asians, almost five times too many, and I am here to impose a quota on them and other suspect races." Instead, he worries about "underrepresentation" of some, while denying the logical corollary of "overrepresentation" of others. The same logic applies to gender, by the way. UC campuses enroll thousands more women than men, very much out of proportion to the general population, and yet Mr. Birgeneau does not decry the "overabundance" of women.'

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Male Studies"?

...otherwise known as Western Civ.

"There's also the social problem outside of schools, as highly educated women have difficulty finding suitable partners."

Why do you think that is, Ann? What is a "suitable" partner?

Do you mean men with the same level of education and income, or is it just the education level, regardless of career?

I can see where it would be socially disadvantageous for a female lawyer to be married to a well-read construction worker, regardless of income level.

Tristram said...

Well, there are a lot more Dave Thomases (Wendys), Sam Waltons (Walmart) Bill Gates (Microsoft) than women who don't finish school and make a boat load of money (Maybe Martha Stewart? Dunno here education background...)

Of course, the truth is probably all three reasons he gave, plus a few more that he (we) haven't considered.

I graduated from Clemson in 1999 with an MS in CS, and my (then future) wife graduated with an MS in Mathematics.

My undergrad was from 1885-1989, and I did notice a big difference in the culture, but it is hard to pinpoint if it was simply because of the different schools (Clemson 97-99, St. Mary's College of Maryland '85-89), but my earlier experience seemed much less concerned with equality, with student identity groups (the Black Student Union only started at SMC in my Junior or Senior year). The student body as a whole seemed much more unified at SMC than at Clemson, but then Clemson is 19,000+ studented, vs. SMC's 1200, which is something that muct be accoutned for.

Back on topic, IIRC, there are many fewer CS students now then there were a few years ago. And I think this is a trend, that many of the male dominated disciplines are either in decline, or simply being overwhelmed by other disciplines.

Of course, in some case (Law, for example), it may be more a structural change of the makeup of the work force.

Ann Althouse said...

Jeff: For me, "suitable partner" means a partner who, from the woman's perspective, suits her. Some highly educated women may prosper in partnership with much less well educated men, but I assume generally there would tend to be problems.

DADvocate said...

Society in general is more hostile towards males. A man trying for child custody in divorce is so fruitless that few even try. Divorced mothers often don't allow fathers to see their children as they should.

I'm tall, athletic and easy going. My college professors several times mentioned that they were "surprised" that I was intelligent. My GPA in graduate school was 3.97/4.00. When I went to the Tennessee Valley Authority to fill out an application, the lady in personell, being unusually candid because she knew my father, said that unless I was a minority or a woman don't even bother applying. I'm sure some males are saying, "Why bother?"

If a man draws attention to any such problem he labeled an "angry white male." (Assuming he's white.)

Here's a radical idea: why don't we try treating everybody equally regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc., for real?

Steve Donohue said...

As a male in college, I see no possible way that I would ever step foot inside of a "male studies" course about what it means to be a man in today's society. Not no way, not no how.

My argument against male quotas in college is the same against racial quotas- there's nothing inherently better about having more of one type that another type of person, but there is something inherently better about having smarter people in college. So if the ration is 135:100 women to men, no problem by me (for a variety of reasons).

Lastly, I advance the following theory although I don't completely support it myself. Men are almost always polled as more conservative than women; could it be that potentially intelligent but conservative males eschew the college lifestyle because they oppose the atmosphere?

Eli Blake said...

I posted on this thread about it last week.

What has happened here (in a poor, rural area) is that a lot of families expect their sons to start earning money right out of high school, while they send their daughters to college. This is especially true on the reservation-- almost all of the young men either go to work, the military or jail, and it has gotten to the point that those who want to go to college are teased about it by their peers, who consider college 'less manly' than the other options listed above. I think it's stupid, but that is the way some people think.

As far as affirmative action for men, 1) I don't see how you could ask for it, after all we still see men running corporations, the government and other institutions by and large. So women still have some advances to make (the argument could be proposed that one reason that women go to college is that a woman without a degree has practically no career choices while a man without a degree can still get a decent job). Besides, if I remember right, there are still about a dozen women-only colleges in America and no men-only colleges in the United States.

Unknown said...

Society has changed faster than university policy, so a lot of unintended consequences and unanswered questions result. CA universities, like Berkeley, ignore Asian enrollment, yet mine touts that it's way up there in graduating Hispanics--in an area that is dominant Hispanic! Who else would they be graduating?

Caucasians are now the minority in population and in academic jobs, yet no one talks about this, either. The implicit message now seems to be: we went underperforming and underprepared minorities in college.

Maybe it is time to chuck the whole balance thing and let nature take its course.

Bruce Hayden said...

Ok, I agree, I wouldn't have taken male studies as an undergraduate either. Most guys wouldn't.

The reason that I suggested such in law schools is that a lot of women's advocacy seems to come out of women's programs in law school. Indeed, in many law schools, it appears that students can get credit for advocating for women.

My view is that it is time that the pendulum swings back towards the center, esp. in family related law, and one of the best ways of doing that is through law school programs.

So, yeh, a little OT. Sorry.

Jay Currie said...

It is fairly clear that men and women have different learning styles - and perhaps abilities - and that these styles mesh or do not mesh with whatever educational system happens to be in place. Various shifts in the system will favour one style over another. So what?

The imposition of gender equality - whether of opportunity or outcome - at the educational level will not change the career trajectories of the lawyers or data entry clerks who emerge. The market, which tends to have rather different goals than educational institutions, will sort the folks willing to work the hours to bill 2800 a year from those who are happy to poke along at 1500. Gender may have something to do with this. So will cultural expectations. And there will not be a damn thing the equality police will be able to do about it.

I would be much more interested in the number of female senior partners there are in, say, the top 500 US law firms than the number of baby lawyers popped into the legal ocean to sink or swim based on a wide variety of skills and attributes which the LSAT usually misses.

Bruce Hayden said...


You may be correct that men often win primary residential custodianship (or whatever you call it in your state) of their kids when it is litigated. But what you don't take into account is that a lot of guys just don't try because they were told by their divorce attorneys, et al., that their odds of winning were extremely low.

How do I know this is happening? Happened to me. And it happened to a lot of guys I have talked to over the last 11 years. Yes, not a scientific survey (self selected and too small).

It should be equal. Legally, it is. But in actuality, it isn't.

Judith said...

I would like to see how these statistics are broken down for race/ethnicity.

There are many studies showing that black males are way overrepresented in prison and way underrepresented in college. At the same time you have way more black women going to college as a way out of the underclass. Then they tend to get government jobs which are seen as safe from discrimination and volatile market forces. Typical for first-gen achievers. This could be skewing the stats.

Jews and Asians (male and female) meanwhile are overrepresented because of the strong family/cultural push to be white-collar and educated.

(I use the word "overrepresented" to mean "out of proportion to their population.")

Bruce Hayden said...


The problem with looking at senior partners is that you are looking at the crop of lawyers who graduated 20-30-40 years ago, and is, therefore, to me, irrelevant. A better way to look at things is to look at how well men and women do who have comparable work experience.

Ignoring sex bias in K-12 education, and then ignoring it in admission to college (and, indeed, arguably enhancing it by putting more emphasis on grades) only works to disadvantage those who are of the less advantaged sex.

Bruce Hayden said...


I should also note that in addition to stronger family emphasis on education, there may also be an IQ function involved with Jews that also helps to increase their representation. This, at least, was one of the findings of the controversial "Bell Curve" by Herrnstein and Murray about a decade ago.

That really wasn't the most controversial finding though - but rather was that African-Americans and Hispanics, on average, scored lower than the mean on IQ tests.

As I have pointed out, the book was, and continues to be, controversial. So, take it with a grain of salt.

moonrage said...

While I do believe that colleges tend to be more anti-male than they are to be anti-female, I think the problem of male underrepresentation in higher education has more to do with it being more female-friendly than it being male-unfriendly. This goes without saying that men may not be so much underrepresented as women are overrepresented.

If there are any programs aimed at encouraging men to pursue college, they certainly need to as effective as those offered to women (eg summer orientations to college-bound women, women in math and sciences, scholarships for women, and other outreach programs offered exclusively to women.) These programs by themselves may not necessarily result in discouraging men to pursue college. Rather, they simply effectively do what they intend to do - that is provide extra encouragement to women.

Whether the extra steps that universities take in favor of women are evidence of misandry or not, current enrollment data at least suggests that these steps are unnecessary at best, and unfair at worst. If anything, they should be directed towards men, at least based on current data.

Unknown said...

I should have said, lee, at my university we have plenty of female science grad students--perhaps even majority female. Whether this is the result of women in general joining the workforce or because they got special consideration, I don't know. I also don't know if any men were discouraged from applying because of affirmative action.

What's your point, anyway, with all your debunking?

Peter Hoh said...

I was an elementary teacher in the 1990s. The fact that women were under-represented in science PhD programs was evidence enough that something negative was happening, and that corrective action was due.

What's the matter with applying the same logic to the question of the under-representation of men in undergraduate programs?

The proposed solution to the girls and science problem was not to use affirmative action to correct the problem at the grad school level, but to make changes in the way science was taught K-12. I'm not in favor of creating preferences for men, but I am in favor of examining the question. What's going on K-12 that leads to this imbalance?

Discrimination against women -- policies that kept women out of certain graduate programs, for instance -- affected all women, regardless of status. To their credit, elite women fought to open doors for all women. The problem with men and declining undergraduate enrollment is not one that will affect the elite, and thus I don't believe it will be addressed.

moonrage said...

The possibility that the gap in college enrollment is a natural extension of sexual differences should not be dismissed. That may well be the case. Be that as it may, the social responses between the different sexual gaps have been undeniably also different for those that favor men and those that do not. The responses have consistently been aimed at either closing the gap where men lead or absent where they don't.

Just as the enrollment gap between men and women may be explained simply by sexual difference, one cannot easily dismiss the impact of all the variants of affirmative action (from female-specific scholarships, orientations, studies, quotas, etc)
on male attendance in higher ed. After all, if these affirmative actions didn't have any significant effects, then why do we have them in the first place?

Tanker J.D. said...

I'll throw two cents just to echo what other men have said:

Up to High School, grades always seemed to have to do with checking little blocks off in mundane order and playing "please the teacher," who was most likely a woman raised to believe that male behaviours were "disruptive" and female behaviours were "good."

I also hypothosize that there is a hidden and more invidious discrimination occuring. Grade inflation has turned grades into emotional validation--not objective performance evaluators. In subjective course work (like the humanities) a female teacher who sees a well-behaved but struggling female student will be apt to provide that student more grade cushion than to a hard-headed male who might, you know, vociferiously dissent from the female teacher's viewpoint.

Tanker J.D. said...

Oh, and to all the silly white males who argue that the mere fact that a discrepency occurs justifies an institutional remedy--don't you know:

Girls and minorities do poorly in school = white men's fault (b/c we "run the world.")

White boys do poorly in school = white men's fault (b/c we don't take enough time off from running the world to supervise homework and coach little league.)

Cathy Young said...

I wrote an article on this subject (whether boys are shortchanged by the educational system) for Reason some 5 years ago:

Where the boys are

At the time, I spoke to a number of people who felt that boys were being alienated by anti-boy attitudes in schoo, starting with the primary school system. A 1990 survey conducted by the American Association of University Women (and spun as evidence of low-self-esteem among girls) found that when schoolchildren were asked questions like, "Whom do teachers like to be around more, boys or girls?", "Who do teachers think are smarter?", "Whom do teachers compliment more?", and so forth, both boys and girls overwhelmingly felt that teachers favored girls.

There are other factors as well. Several studies have found (and several educators I know confirm) that at least in the working-class and lower-middle-class population, young women tend to be more focused and with clearer career goals than young men.

I think the present situation is clearly a problem. Yes, there are some men who are not going to college because they're opting for entrepreneurship instead, but I doubt that this accounts for a large portion of the college attendance and graduation gap (which, by the way, is most pronounced among African-Americans and in low-income groups).

For more on this, check my blogpost:

What About the Men?

Slightly off-topic: In one of the posts on this thread, leeontheroad disputes the notion of anti-male bias in child custody cases and says that fathers who sue for sole custody usually win. That's simply not the case. This claim is based on bogus studies that lump together contested custody cases, and cases in which the father gets sole custody with the mother's consent.

Sorry about the shameless plugging, but I'll post a link to another one of my articles, simply because I don't know of another good online source of info on the subject:

Do fathers have the edge in divorce?

Sloanasaurus said...

When trying to explain why many women are not in engineering type fields... has anyone pondered that perhaps women in general are not interested in things such as engineering. For example, I am a lawyer myself but I also do all kinds of crazy mechanical things such as install electrical switches, fix cars, etc.. in my spare time. I have many male friends who are also lawyers that do the same mechanical type stuff. However, I just don't know many women that are interested in tinkering with mechanical things. In contrast, I don't know any men who attend scrap booking parties. Perhaps these observations (which I am sure most others also have on this board) explain a lot more than we would care to admit about why men over populate some professions and women over populate others.

Bruce Hayden said...

Kathy Young - thanks for the articles. The first was one of the most (IMHO) even handed views of the entire situation that we have been talking about for the last couple of days that I have read. And the later one seemed to confirm my gut feelings about custody determination - having lived through such.

Back to the first article. Kathy makes the point that one size doesn't fit all. And that if, for example, there are some anti-male biases of some degree in K-12 education, that they don't affect all males, or, probably even most, males that much.

And, I think that she suggests that it might be time to revisit the option of single sex education. Not for all, or even most. But for some.

Bruce Hayden said...


This brings up another controversial book that we have discussed here: "The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain" by Simon Baron-Cohen. He posits that there are two essential brain types, the more male oriented Systemizing (S) type and the more female oriented Emphasizing (E) type, and that while both brain types have bell curved distributions across the two sexes, that the means of the two distributions between the two sexes differ.

That males would tend to be more systemizing and less empathizing than women, and visa versa, on average, shouldn't surprise any of us. I think that it comports with our common knowledge. We have this picture of the average family with the woman talking to her friends either in person or over the phone in the kitchen (maybe while she makes dinner), while her husband is happily tinkering by himself out in the garage. Yes, it is a stereotype, but one that is based on what most of us accept as a valid truth.

So, he goes on to point out though that engineering and physics, for example, require a strong S-type brain in order to excell. And, thus, he is not surprised that these areas are dominated by men.

I should add that the discussion of this book occasioned a similar level (and type) of controversy as we have seen in this thread - so, instead of revisiting all that, I would like to incorporate that discussion by reference here.

DADvocate said...

leeontheroad -

Please be sure and read the Cathy Young refers to in her post.

Doc said...

"The problem he cites is that 135 women are receving college DEGREES for every 100 men. Thus, the problem, if there is one, should be focused on why men are not matriculating as well as girls. A legitimate question." -Coco.

So, Coco, if this is a legitimate question, can you postulate an answer?

Unknown said...

I attended graduate school. There were 4 males and about 20 females in the masters program. 2 females dropped out and 3 males dropped out along the way.

It seems like the old male only and female only schools benefitted them. Men and women think differently and often don't do well being taught by each other. I don't have data to back up this thesis, but a look at graduation rates would be interesting.