Study indicates gender divide in US schools, colleges

Researchers from the University of Toronto report several factors contribute to lopsided male to female ratios in schools of study.

A strong focus on male athletics. A faculty with more male than female instructors. A pre-professional emphasis as opposed to a liberal arts education.

These factors, tested and analyzed by researchers from the University of Toronto earlier this year, indicate a likelihood of gender divides in undergraduate schools.

According to the study conducted by Toronto graduate student Jayne Baker and professor Ann Mullen, though overall female college enrollment is higher than male, women typically flock to certain areas of study.

The study indicates that schools with a strong focus on male athletics also have stronger gender divides in academic programs than those where male athletics are not valued to the same degree.

“We were certainly surprised at the degree to which gender segregation varies across the institutions in our sample,” Baker said in an email. “And, of course, the findings about football are really intriguing, and we hope to try to uncover just what it is about football-focused institutions that may influence students’ decision-making.”

According to the fall 2010 enrollment summary, 91.2 percent of MU social work students were female, and 86.5 percent of engineering students were male.

School of Social Work Director of Undergraduates Kalea Benner said stereotypes about the profession may repel males without close ties to the field.

“Some of what brings men into the program is having knowledge of the social work professionals who have been in the role of helping themselves and their families in school settings, hospital settings where they have been able to identify with a professional social worker and the role that the social worker plays,” she said. “I think having a mentor in the profession is significant for many of our students.”

Baker said research indicates universities should work with students and inform them about all types of fields in order to avoid gender divides between majors.

“Universities should consider looking at the kind of culture that is created on their campuses as a result of the features of the university, such as sports programs and female faculty positions,” she said. “This does seem to influence gender segregation in fields of study.”

The idea that well-known, successful male sports teams draw students in to universities from a young age, Benner said, could contribute to the overall environment of the school.

“The emphasis on male athletics is a media emphasis as well as a university emphasis,” she said. “The publicity that the university receives as our football team is on TV six out of the next 12 Saturdays, that does make an impact on students as they’re watching and wanting to be here. I think the university does a nice job of supporting women’s athletics, but there’s nowhere near the publicity generated, or the income generated, by those sports.”

Other factors the study indicated lead to stronger gender barriers included fewer female professors and staff leaders and the curricular focus of the institution.

Baker said the results of the study are alarming because females consistently make only 80 percent of the salary of their male counterparts, a number that drops off to 69 percent by 10 years after graduation.

“We should be concerned if institutions are somehow contributing to men and women earning their degrees in different, sex-typed majors, because of what we know about the gender wage gap and occupational segregation,” she said in an email.

Benner said students should take advantage of resources provided at the MU Student Center and base their decisions for study not off of what their peers and parents say or gender guidelines.

“We do have a number of men who come in and are very successful in their academics as well as in the profession,” she said. “Social work is a profession where it’s service-oriented and oriented toward helping others and making sure people can maximize their potential. I think that can appeal to a number of people, regardless of gender.”

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