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No More Big Man on Campus?

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No More Big Man on Campus?

College Gender Gap Could Mean Women Lose Mating Game

By Geraldine Sealey

July 18 — Sure, it's the 21st century and all, but many single, professional women of a certain age still sweat over the lethal mix of a dearth of educated, successful bachelors and the cruel march of Father Time. Believe it or not, ladies, the situation appears to be getting bleaker.

Women now comprise 57 percent of all college graduates in the United States. Among Hispanics, the gender gap is even greater — only 40 percent of college graduates are male. Among blacks, two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man. Some demographers and labor studies experts fear this trend portends ominously for the mating game. American men are becoming less literate, less ambitious, less responsible, and less employable than women, they say. This can only mean bad things, the argument goes, for high-achieving women who want husbands who, say, contribute to society, hold their own in conversation and pay their own way. Andrew Sum, an economist with the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, calls this effect the "marriage squeeze." "The choices for younger women will be more constrained than they were 20 years ago," he said. "This is a serious economic and cultural problem. Men are less mature today than they were 20 years ago. Not everyone will agree with me, but the evidence supports that."

Women Mature Faster Sum's research shows that an average of 62 percent of women in Massachusetts' large central and inner cities graduate from high school and enroll in college, compared to 48 percent of men. His data also reflect the education gender gap's impact on marriage, he said. An estimated 59 percent of men with only high school diplomas were married compared to 75 percent of men with Master's degrees or better, Sum said. Nationwide during the last two decades, women have increasingly earned greater numbers of associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees than men. There is no state in America where men can claim more bachelor's degrees than women. Explanations abound for why women are more likely to enroll in and graduate from college. Educators say that in general, women are more prepared as students, more mature, better writers and readers, and more ambitious.

"Women may feel they have to try harder," said Stephanie Coontz, a family researcher and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. Indeed, there has been much public debate recently about the plight of successful women looking for mates and families. Perhaps most notably, Sylvia Ann Hewlett raised a ruckus with her book Creating a Life about professional women's often quixotic quest for children, which made 60 Minutes and the cover of Time magazine. Must Women Go Slummin'? The academic gender gap shows no sign of abating, which means women may have to start waiting even longer to marry, or they may have to consider "marrying down." Traditionally, men have been more likely to marry women with less earning potential and professional stature, although that trend is shifting. Women have been more likely to pair up with partners who have at least as much academic achievement — 80 percent of women with bachelor's degrees marry men who also graduated from college.

Not all experts see trouble ahead, of course. Many see the trend as a reassuring development for women, and for men, eager to break out of traditional marriage roles. Kathleen Gerson, a New York University sociologist studying work and family attitudes of the 18-to-30 crowd, pooh-poohs the notion that less educated men herald the apocalypse for heterosexual couples. "When men outnumbered women [in college], it didn't seem like a social crisis," she said. If women are less dependent on men for financial support, couples can make more honest decisions about being together, says Coontz, who's writing a book on the history of marriage. "It's not a sign of disaster, but a sign that people are able to develop more true free choice and are willing to do so," she said. "This is a good example of the fact that marriage is more of a choice than it's ever been." Put less delicately, the concept of the marriage squeeze is a lot of "hooha" about nothing, says Carl E. Van Horn, a professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Resourceful Women More Attractive Mates "It's not like there are no men graduating from college," Van Horn said. "It's not a big enough change that it's so noticeable." In fact, much research shows that women, just like men, are more likely to be married if they have greater educational attainment and more earning power, says Scott Coltrane, a senior scholar with the Center on Contemporary Families. Economic equality also translates to more equality in marriage, Coltrane said. "When women have more resources, couples tend to make decisions that end up sharing more," he said. "I don't see the institution of marriage being in any trouble. It's a different vision of marriage. Marriage will be helped by equality of men and women in the workplace." Of course, even though women are getting more college and professional degrees and are improving their own earning potential, it remains to be seen whether they can bust through the corporate "glass ceiling" that still marginalizes them in executive suites. If women are to translate their educational achievement into true earning power and professional stature, corporate America will also have to change, some experts say. "[Women] still face inflexible workplace structures and job opportunities that are gender-biased and biased against parents," Gerson said. Genie Out of the Bottle Despite these arguments, Sum sticks to his theory that less educated men comprise a social, economic and marital drain. And, he said, if you ask young women, they'd back him up. "Many women perceive this problem to be real," he said. "It is not our imagination." The college gender gap damages young men even more, Sum said. Men not only lag behind female students but lack many of the directed mentoring opportunities designed to encourage professional development after college. Surely, scholars may disagree on whether the economic deficiency of men is a social plague or a potential leveler of restrictive gender roles. But, Coltrane said: "There's no putting the genie back in the bottle. There's no way to reverse this trend over the next few decades."


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