By Richard Vedder
Whenever feminists talk about the under representation of women in this or that, I laugh, contemptuously. Women greatly outnumber men in colleges in America today, a dramatic change over the past six decades. But reading Postsecondary Education Opportunity for December, I realize that this is a world wide phenomenon, although there are some interesting international differences.
For eight countries around the world (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Korea, Japan, U.K. and the US)I calculated the percent of women who are college graduates in the young adult (25-34) population relative to the percent of male young adults with degrees. In the U.S., the proportion of female graduates exceeds that of males by 22.6 percent (34.2 percent of females have at least a bachelor's degree, vs. 27.9 percent for males.) A similar gap exists in France and even larger ones exist in Brazil (38.1 percent) and Australia (27.1 percent).
Are there countries where the gender differences are negligible or at least small (under 10 percent)? Sure -- Korea, Germany, and Britain. And there is one country where women are still very clearly underrepresented in college --Japan, where the female proportion is 36.4 percent less than the male one.
Exploring the data a bit further, it turns out that the quintessential Scandinavian welfare states --e.g., Sweden, Denmark, Finland --have among the largest differentials --women graduates are at least one-third more numerous then men. I ask the question, has the welfare state somewhat robbed men of their masculinity, their traditional role as the leading family breadwinner, etc.? Is this a triumph of gender equality or something less positive?
It is an interesting question to me why in general there is a dearth of males, but also why some important nations do NOT have this. Since even now men have higher rates of lifetime labor force participation than women nearly everywhere, are we training more and more persons who have college degrees but do not participate in the world of work, staying home to be mothers or parental caretakers? Since output is largely created by the efforts of workers (Marx would have said entirely by workers), and college is allegedly an important source of human capital formation, these international gender differences are potentially of some importance in any study of international differences in economic performance. More work is needed here.