Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education

After decades of fretting over girls’ academic opportunities and achievement, it seems the worm has turned with a vengeance. MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, using Census data from 1970 to 2010, studied differences among males and females in educational attainment and economic well being. They emerged with two main findings. First, while girls are gaining ground in high school and college-graduation rates, boys are slipping. Among those aged thirty-five in 2010, the female-male gap in college-going rates was 10 percentage points, while the gap in four-year college-completion rates was 7 percentage points. Second, men’s wages are faltering: Between 1979 and 2010, the real earnings growth for males with less than a four-year degree declined between 5 and 25 percent (the steepest such fall was found among the least-educated and youngest males). And though tough economic times have also taxed women, their earnings did not decline as far; in fact, the earnings of highly educated women have risen sharply since the late 70s, with the gender earnings gap among older workers (ages 40-64) narrowing from 60 percent in 1979 to 20 percent in 2010 for those with a post-college education. The analysts’ search for the root of these trends escorts readers through a review of shifting family structures: Over the last thirty years, the proportion of births accounted for by unmarried women has more than doubled, rising from less than 20 percent in 1980 to over 40 percent in 2009. What’s more, these trends were not driven by teen births but by women between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine. And on most any academic or economic measure, children growing up in single-parent homes have worse outcomes; but without a role model of the same gender, boys tend to fare worse than girls. This is depressing news indeed for our nation’s boys.

SOURCE: David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education (Washington, D.C.: Third Way).

More By Author