Women, Men and the Future of Education
In North America, women reached parity with men at the college undergraduate level in the late 1980s and in master's degree programs in the late 1990s. Currently, women make up slightly less than 50 percent of students at the PhD level, but they are expected to cross that number in the next several years.
There have been many stories in the media recently about this gender imbalance at the undergraduate level. Today, for every two male students, there are three females entering college. This has produced obvious social issues on campuses, as there are more and more women undergraduates looking for social connections with men than there are available partners. This has affected social behavior and sexual conduct.
Males still are a majority in such fields as engineering, but at liberal arts colleges that do not emphasize engineering, there have actually been concerns that less-qualified males are being admitted to keep the student body from skewing ever more female.
Why has this happened? Educators and sociologists have many theories—usually a combination of higher drop-out rates of males from high school, girls doing better at standardized tests than boys, a higher participation in gangs and drugs by males, an increased need for recruits for the military in times of war (the military is still predominantly male), and a male absorption with computer and gaming technology.
I am not here to speak to the past, but to suggest how these trends in higher education will change our society in the future.
Educating girls and its impact on future incomes
There has always been a direct correlation between level of education and income, with college graduates earning significantly more than high school graduates. Those with master's degrees earn even more. Given the current 60-40 female-to-male ratio at colleges, this means that in the next two decades there will finally be gender equality of income, as an increasing number of women will earn more.
These workplace changes will be dramatic and will alter many aspects of work and wealth. However, the social implications of this ratio could be quite profound as well. With women finally gaining parity in management and income, will fewer women decide to become mothers? Will women easily accept marriage to men of lower income and employment status? Will the entire framework of the family be rethought? While the model of the nuclear family that the baby boomer generation was born into is no longer the status quo, will it start to move in the other direction, with an increasing amount of men becoming the stay-at-home parent because it would be too costly for the wife to stop working? It is very probable that all of these social changes will occur.
It is often thought that the seeds of the information age were sown when the G.I. Bill allowed millions of World War II veterans to get college educations. This was the underpinning of the subsequent knowledge economy and it changed the face of our country. This new 60-40 ratio in higher education is going to bring about a similar level of change in the next 50 years.
What do you think about this education split between men and women? What changes do you see happening?
David Houle is an award-winning futurist and strategist who has launched successful brands and is an in-demand speaker about the future. He writes the popular futurist blog Evolution Shift and lives his life slightly ahead of the curve.
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