The 1980s witnessed a trend in which women became the primary demographic on college campuses. This sample education paper explores some of the reasons why women have come to dominate the discourse of modern university demographics.
Trends in female enrollment in higher education
Women’s rights have taken a turn for the better, at least in education. Before the 1980s, men had always been the predominant students in institutions of higher education. But trends have taken several turns in the last several decades; since 1982, women have actually surpassed men in terms of higher education (Ewert, 2012, p. 824). Women have become more likely to:
- Attend college
- Persist in college
- Obtain degrees
- Enroll in graduate school
- Perform better in their academic studies
This change in the composition of higher education students must be studied in order to derive information about the implications upon the labor market, family structure, social structure, and educational parameters.
Literature review regarding increases in women attending college
Several studies have thus far attempted to define the factors that have influenced women’s trends in higher education. One such study considers the differences between mothers’ educational expectations for their sons compared to their daughters. The researchers hypothesized that differences between a mother’s involvement in her son’s versus daughter’s education would be associated with the odds of only the sister versus only the brother in the family attending college (Diprete & Buchmann, 2006, p. 1).
Another study focused on the college processes that students experience as a determinant of why women are succeeding at higher levels than men. The intention was to discover how students pursue their education, in terms of timing and extracurricular activities, have a part in women’s trends in higher education (Ewert, 2012, 824).
An additional study reviewed the impact of trends of the returns to higher education for women, the probably of getting married, how gender plays an important role in economic development, the probability of staying married, the family standard of living, and insurance against poverty (Tatum et al., 2013, p. 746). This approach focused on social structures as potential influences in the educational gender gap rather than family processes or the college experience.
Female enrollment methodology
Diprete and Buchmann performed their study using a youth cohort that attended middle and high school in 1995 and 1996. To isolate the variable of family processes upon educational attainment, only the mothers of the family were considered, in order to keep the sample size from being significantly reduced by the mere fact that family compositions vary. Surveys were taken from mothers, brothers, and sisters to obtain data. Also considered were the mother’s educational attainment and brothers’ and sisters’ baseline difference in grades (Diprete & Buchmann, 2006, p. 1).
Ewert, meanwhile, collected data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS). Over 12,000 students were interviewed, specifically targeting those interviewed whom attended and graduated college (Ewert, 2012, p. 829). In a similar fashion, Tatum, Schwartz, Schimmoeller, and Perry analyzed variable trends with 39 years worth of data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) (Tatum et al., 2013, p. 747).
Women more inclined to focus on daughter’s college education
Diprete and Buchmann found that mothers’ involvement in her own education, her son’s, and her daughter’s all are correlated with the children attending school, and that mother’s tend to give their sons more attention in this respect. This is consistent with the gender stereotyping that boys and girls receive different amounts of attention from teachers, with boys receiving the higher levels of adult attention (Jacobs, 1996, 2004).
Ewert found that more men than women had disrupted college attendance patterns, due to taking time off and attending part-time. He concluded from his results that attendance patterns, social integration, and academic performance in college all influence the gender gap with respect to graduation (Ewert, 2012, p. 842). Additionally, evidence from the CPS indicated that the standard-of-living and insurance-against-poverty returns to higher education have risen faster for women than men in the recent decades, as well as an increased probability of marriage (Tatum, et al., 2013, p. 765).
Understanding the impact of female college enrollment
As topics for study become more complicated, it becomes more and more difficult to isolate influential variables from correlated incidences. For example, Diprete and Buchmann cite one issue as the lack of enough complete data sets; family income, parental education, and differences between sibling grades were difficult data to obtain and were sometimes imputed (Diprete & Buchmann, 2006, p. 23).
There can also be, in any study, any unseen variables that can be affecting the outcomes without ever being detected. For example, there is evidence that men are less willing to take on college loan debt than women, and thus may have a disadvantage statistically in attending college (Sander, 2013, p. 1).
However, in all the studies we have considered here, finances are not considered. The complications that could arise from true representations of significant influential factors make answering the question “why are women the predominant students on college campuses today?” nearly impossible. The best answer possible comes from the factors that can be studied individually, as shown.
Gender discrimination may play a small part in higher education demographics, but there appear to be three categories of variables which may affect the gender gap: accessing higher education, performance in the duration of higher education, and applications and returns upon completion of higher education. The trends in these categories often do not coincide, and so as research continues in the future, it is important to distinguish between the different types of variables affecting the trends of women in higher education.
Bissell-Havran, J., Loken, E., & McHale, S. (2012). Mothers’ Differential Treatment of Adolescent Siblings: Predicting College Attendance of Sisters Versus Brothers. Journal Of Youth & Adolescence, 41(10), 1267-1279.
Diprete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2006). Gender-Specific Trends in the Value of Education and the Emerging Gender Gap in College Completion. Demography, 43(1), 1-24.
Ewert, S. (2012). Fewer Diplomas for Men: The Influence of College Experiences on the Gender Gap in College Graduation. Journal Of Higher Education, 83(6), 824-850.
Lasser, C. (1991). Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era. Journal Of American History, 78(2), 696.
Sander, L. (2013). Debt Burdens May Deter Men From Graduating, Research Finds. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 59(26), A18.
Tatum, H. E., Schwartz, B. M., Schimmoeller, P. A., & Perry, N. (2013). Classroom Participation and Student-Faculty Interactions: Does Gender Matter?. Journal Of Higher Education, 84(6), 745-768.