This gender gap has been growing for some time now, as successive generations of young women have entered the world of higher education. Yet, no one seemed to see a gap of this magnitude coming -- until it had already happened.
The disparity of enrollment by gender varies by institution, but it is now estimated that almost 60% of all undergraduate students enrolled in American colleges and universities are women. This represents something altogether new in human experience since the rise of the university model as the dominant learning environment for young adults. For the first time, a generation of young women will be markedly more educated than their male generational cohort.
Is this a bad thing . . . a negative development? Yes -- and profoundly so. The problem is not the larger enrollment of young women in colleges and universities. The problem is the phenomenon of missing young men, whose absence spells big trouble for the future.
The numbers point to the problem, but do not explain it. Explanations for the phenomenon of missing young men point to the fact that girls outperform boys at every level in grades K-12, and are thus more ready for the college experience than the boys. Other factors include economic and cultural patterns. Among some ethnic groups, the disparity between men and women entering college is far greater than 60% to 40%. Many young men consider the educational environment to be frustrating, constricting, and overly feminized. Others have lost confidence that an undergraduate education will lead to a job with adequate income and stability. Whatever the reason, their absence makes a big difference on the college campus today -- and will make an even bigger difference in the larger society in years ahead.
The New York Times offered an unusually candid portrait of this gender disparity in "The New Math on Campus," published in its February 5, 2010 edition. Reporter Alex Williams described a radically transformed social scene on some of today's largest and most historic state universities.
The University of North Carolina, for example:
North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women's colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education. Researchers there cite several reasons: women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students.
Williams described a campus filled with young women who socialize with each other out of necessity -- there are just not enough young men on campus. As Williams notes, this makes some college campuses resemble retirement communities, where women also generally outnumber men.
On the secular university campus, the gender imbalance has forced adjustments in the "hooking up" culture of sexual negotiation. As Williams reports:
"If a guy is not getting what he wants, he can quickly and abruptly go to the next one, because there are so many of us," said Katie Deray, a senior at the University of Georgia, who said that it is common to see six provocatively clad women hovering around one or two guys at a party or a bar.
This is a portrait of demographic disaster, and the imbalance is not limited to secular campuses or students. Even as women now outnumber men in baccalaureate programs, they also indicate a desire to marry a man with equal or greater educational attainments. As the numbers now make clear, many of these young women will be disappointed.
Christian parents and all concerned with the coming generation should look closely at this phenomenon and ask the hard question -- why is it that so many young men are falling behind in educational attainment? What are we doing that allows or encourages boys to exit formal education at their earliest opportunity? Why do we accept at face value the fact that boys fall behind girls of the same age in maturity and educational level? Why is college now an aspiration for far more young women than young men?
These are hard questions, but the answers will be even harder. We have allowed the development of an elongated boyhood and delayed adulthood. We frustrate them in school and then wonder why they bolt at the first exit from the classroom. We allow boys and young men to forfeit their futures.
All this might be different if the missing young men on our college and university campuses were missing for some good reason -- such as military service or similar deployment. But, even as young men are more likely to join the military, the numbers do not explain the differential on campus.
Biblical manhood requires that young men grow up, assume adult responsibilities, and prepare for leadership and service in the home, in the church, and in the larger society.
This much is clear -- if this trend is not reversed, the college campus will not be the only place these young men are found missing.
Alex Williams, "The New Math on Campus," The New York Times, Friday, February 5, 2010.