The Rise of Women

The Rise of Women: Gender Gap in Education

The Rise of Women: Gender Gap in Education

“The facts of women being more likely than men to go to college, perform better academically, and major in fields other than science, technology, engineering and mathematics are mostly attributable to factors affecting students before – in some cases, long before – they enter the halls of academe. But that doesn’t mean colleges can’t do anything to mitigate the consequences.” These are the conclusions of Thomas A. Diprete and Claudia Buchmann, who are authors of a recent book titled The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools. 

 The book discusses the gender inequalities in American society today, specifically in education. The authors talk about the substantial gains women have made in education since the 1960’s and then compare these gains with the inequalities that women still face in the world today. What’s interesting about this book is that it charts performance of both males and females over the course of their schooling, since kindergarden up until college. The graphs are remarkable to look at and see differences. The authors, at every stage in the education process, were able to consider the “gender-specific impact of factors such as families, school, peers, race, and class. Throughout their research, the authors demonstrate how differences emerge as early as kindergarden, where girls show “higher levels of essential learning skills such as persistence and self-control.” By contrast,  boys at this stage are in conflict with their “emerging masculine identity,” and do not work as hard (as girls) in school because of this.

The authors talk in depth about how women surpass men in one arena specifically: EDUCATION. In fact, women actually perform better academically than men in all levels of schooling and they are more likely than men to receive college degrees and pursue degrees in graduate school. I found this excellent pie graph to shows this trend.

pie graph of womens education

What is interesting is that since 1950, the rate of men completing a bachelor’s degree remained the same for years, yet since 1970’s, 14% of women finished college, while 20% of men did the same. A chart below demonstrates these statistics. The graph below demonstrates women surpassing men in attaining bachelor degrees. There are also many other graphs that depict such advances, but I felt this one was relevant in depicting just how far women have come since the 1900’s. Other graphs in the book show how 1980’s up until now the trends have increased and women are attaining higher levels’ of education than men. DiPrete and Buchmann discuss how “the rise of egalitarian gender norms and a growing demand for college-educated workers has allowed more women to enroll in colleges and universities nationwide. Because of this shift that happened, women were able to reverse the historical male advantage in education.”

rise of women chart

In addition, by 2010, women had surpassed men in obtaining college degrees by more than eight percentage points. Women’s graduation rate, says DiPrete have “skyrocketed” to 36%, “while the rate among men grew only 7 points to 27 percent.” Today, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to 1, yet still don’t make as much money as their male counterparts.

Rise of Women talks a lot about how more women have gone into fields such as medicine and the law, and that women “lag” behind men in engineering and physical science degrees, which Professor Eileen Pollack confirmed in her article and in the interview. The authors argue that the high school years, not the college years, are where students, particularly girls, begin to segregate in their choice of majors. Chapter 8 is where most of this information was taken from. This chapter discusses gender differences in all levels of schooling, particularly the “high school intentions to major in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and gender differences in college majors.”

The data in Chapter 8 shows that more girls than boys lose interest in STEM subjects. The authors blame the education system for such gender segregation in the fields. They argue that, “school environments differ in the extent to which they support the idea that majoring in a STEM field can be an attractive choice for women.” The authors address the fact that recent evidence has shown that the schools that have a very strong science and math curriculum are good at “delinking STEM fields from masculine stereotypes,” and these women are more likely to pursue these degrees in college. Yet, many high schools do not emphasize STEM subjects and women lose interest in those majors when they attend college. The authors argue for stronger faculty who will push their students, especially girls, and encourage them to pursue such degrees.

This made me think of Eileen Pollack’s article about “Why Are Their So Few Women in the Sciences?” She emphasizes how women need positive reinforcement to go science degrees and the high school faculty is slacking in this, as the authors of The Rise of Women note. With all of this information, its interesting to see how little has been done to encourage more girls to pursue such degrees. Our education system, especially in high school, needs to change in order to encourage girls to pursue careers in the sciences.

The book has amazing charts and graphs that even breaks down racial differences in education and overall is an excellent book to learn more about the advances that women have made, but also the difficulties they still face in our education system, where they are still treated as gendered groups, instead of individuals.


I was able to find the graphs from this book in the publishers pages:


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