Why Do so Few Men Graduate College in Their Early Twenties?

Among?22-year-olds, there are 185 female college graduates for every 100 male graduates.? It’s an amazing statistic, and one we saw courtesy of a recent?column by David Brooks. We know that the gender balance at colleges has definitely swung toward women-but could it have swung this far?? Yes and no.? Yes-Brooks is directly citing?a recent BLS report.? But no-this isn’t really representative of what’s happening on campus.? According to the?American Council on Education, the college student body has been 43% male annually since 2000.? If you are too lazy to do the math, this yields 133 women per 100 men; a skewed ratio for sure, but nowhere near as skewed as 185 to 100.

What gives?? It turns out that it’s all about the age you examine. While we each graduated by age 22, and Brooks probably did too, this isn’t the norm.? In fact, fewer than half of those who will ultimately complete a college degree have done so by age 22.? But women at that age are twice as likely to have finished college as men.? Men partly catch up by age 25, and, according to our tabulations of the 2008 American Community Survey, by age 25 there are 141 female college grads for every 100 men with a college degree-much as you would predict from the enrollment data

What’s happening to men?? Here are three possibilities:

  1. Men are taking longer to graduate high school.? This may reflect parents enrolling their sons in school later than their daughters.
  2. Men are taking longer to do a college degree.? It is becoming increasingly uncommon to finish college in four years, and many students take even longer.? Are there gender differences in this?? Why?
  3. Perhaps men are more likely to take a gap year (or years)-seeing the world-before going to college.

We’re interested: Do you have other possible explanations? These three explanations are really just a way of categorizing the differences-what deeper forces underpin the differential trends by gender in age to college completion?

Oh, and if you are interested in the implications of these differential trends for the marriage market, there’s?an interesting discussion over at the Times‘s Room for Debate blog, including commentary by one of us (OK, it’s Betsey).

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  1. Brett says:

    I would think curriculum choices might have something to do with it. I have no statistics to back up my assertion but it seems the math and science undergrad degrees have become 5 year degrees while many liberal arts and business degrees can still be completed in 4 or less

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  2. Megan Goering says:

    Parents with male children may be more likely to hold them back in starting kindergarden. In rural and other highly-competitive high school sports communities, parents often act on concerns over their sons being “accepted” as big enough or tall enough in sports (whereas parents of girls may worry less, based on social norms and/or higher volatility/difference in growth rates and development).

    See how much this effect matters! If boys are more likely to be held back going into kindergarten, they’ll be much less likely to graduate at 22 and instead may slide until 23. The other effects mentioned, such as taking a year off or other alternate arrangements, may be more likely for students who are “older” already in comparison to their classmates. These students might be more confident/independent after years of conditioning as being “first” or biggest in class.

    Just a thought. Happy hunting.

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  3. tj says:

    somewhat close to point 3, but more men than women enlist in the armed services. Of those a certain percentage will go onto college after serving or get a degree while serving but it usually takes longer.

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  4. Lance S says:

    Completely has to do biological sexual/reproductive incentives.

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  5. TomHynes says:

    How significant is military service in the “gap year” explanation?

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  6. Ray says:

    It may be that men are “expected” to move out of the parent’s house earlier than women. Having to get a job and another place to live may force the man to delay school.

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  7. Stephen B. says:

    Military Service.

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  8. Ian Calhoun says:

    I’m with Mr. Hynes. I’d attribute the disparity at least partially to military service.

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