Inside Higher Ed has an interesting report today on a new book by Linda J. Sax called The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men (2008), which offers a great deal of evidence on the so-called gender gap among college students:
The book’s purpose, [Sax] writes, is to “add context to what have become oversimplified but popular messages — that gender equity has been achieved, that women are an academic success story, and that men are experiencing an educational crisis. There is some truth to each of these messages, but they tend to convey the status of women and men as a zero-sum game.” The more nuanced reality, she writes, is that there are problems facing both men and women — and educators need to acknowledge and respond to these differences.
It sounds like a sensible feminist project to me–collect some real data, and see where that leads us. Here’s a sad fact that may help explain both women’s achievement in college, and men’s lack of ambition or initiative in the event they get to college:
Self-Confidence of First-Year College Students by Gender, 2006
|Academic Skill||% of Women Who ThinkThey Are Above Average||% of Men Who ThinkThey Are Above Average|
Depressing, isn’t it? Gee, I wonder where the students get these attitudes? (I’d also like to see how these questions breakdown according to race as well as sex.) Oh, and here’s a fun fact to bring up at your first search committee meeting this fall:
One finding in particular is striking, given the debates about affirmative action and the importance of diversifying the faculty, which was once overwhelmingly male. The data suggest a direct relationship, Sax writes, between institutions having larger proportions of female students and faculty members and all students — males too — performing better academically. While noting that the data do not suggest why this is the case, Sax urges researchers to explore the reasons for this relationship.
Why would that be, I wonder? Perhaps the mere fact of seriously considering a wider number of applications for faculty positions–that is, making the search pool more competitive–yields more competitive faculty who thereby challenge the students more? Do women on the faculty encourage women students to up their games, which then inspires the male students to do better? (It’s hard to say without seeing what’s being measured as “performing better academically”–is that measured merely with grades, or with LSAT or GRE scores, or by other measures?)
Finally, here’s one of my favorite nuggets from this veritable bag of salted peanut-like data points: “both male and female students are least likely to do well at large public universities.” Well, duh! I think someone else made this point rather fulsomely nearly six months ago. (Rather brilliantly, I might add.)