Reassessing the college gender gap: analyzing current trends in college attainment by gender
The improvement of women's educational outcomes throughout the latter part of the twentieth century was a cause for celebration as women closed the gap in achievement on all levels, but particularly in attending and graduating from college. As the gap closed in the mid-1970s, however, women's rates of college attainment continued to rise at a higher pace than men's, to the point where now, women account for 55% of the student body in U.S. colleges and universities. While this trend represents tremendous success on the part of women, the stagnancy of men's college attainment has only begun to be recognized. This stagnancy will soon take on a new urgency due to the reduction of manufacturing jobs in the United States in the last decade and the resultant decline in career prospects for non-college educated men. This thesis draws upon and tests previous theories of the college attainment gender gap, applying several statistical models to a dataset, the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has not been previously used to address this issue. The study finds that controlling for race/ethnicity and family background characteristics among high school graduates, women enter college at a rate approximately ten percentage points higher than men. The gap is largest for black students, and smallest for non-black, non-Hispanic students. When controlling for high school academic performance in addition to the above factors, the gender gap is reduced to approximately six percentage points. Additionally, when adding controls for a set of variables indicating non-cognitive skills, the gap is further reduced to near three percentage points. The study also finds that the gap in college attainment is attenuated as time goes on. The gender gap is considerably higher when measuring college attainment by age nineteen than it is when measuring attainment by age twenty-three. This narrowing could be attributable to several explanations: boys being more likely to be held back a year in school; boys starting school at a later age; or young men being more likely to wait at least a year between high school graduation and college enrollment. This thesis adds to the literature on college attainment by gender, and it provides an early example of the potential to examine these questions with the NLSY97 dataset. The findings of this study support several theories proffered by earlier researchers and provide several avenues for further study of this important policy question.