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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).