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The Harvard Crimson

Study: Women Outnumber Male Undergrads
Friday, April 28, 2006

Female undergraduates outnumber male undergraduates nationally, a trend that Harvard has been slow to mirror, according to a study published this month by three Harvard economists.

Lee Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin, Allison Professor of Economics Lawrence F. Katz, and Dunster House resident tutor Ilyana Kuziemko, who wrote the study, said women now make up 57 percent of the national undergraduate population, compared to 39 percent in 1960.

The study, titled "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," was published online by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and examines the reasons why females now constitute a majority of undergraduate students across the nation.

According to the paper, the reversal of the college gender gap is due to "the persistence of behavioral and developmental differences between males and females."

The gender gap started growing at liberal arts colleges in the 1990s. Experts say that men preferred larger colleges or engineering and business programs not available at liberal arts colleges, according to insidehighered.com, an online education journal.

More recently though, the gender gap has spread to larger universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where females comprise 58 percent of the class of 2009. Even at Harvard, females overtook males for the first time in the number of admitted students to the Class of 2010, according to IvySuccess.com.

For the class of 2010, 51.8 percent of admitted applicants were females, up from 49.5 percent in 2009. The undergraduate student body as a whole has an even distribution between males and females.

The gender gap at Harvard trails the national statistics presented in the Harvard study because "the more selective the college, the lower will be the ratio of females to males even if admissions were on a gender-blind basis," said Goldin. The reason for this is that the most dominant female-to-male ratios occur among lower socioeconomic status families, while the ratio among wealthier families is more balanced.

Katz said that "since Harvard tends to draw from the higher part of the [socioeconomic status] and high school performance distribution [this] would mean even with gender-blind admissions policies that Harvard would tend to have a lower female share than a typical elite school."

While a large gender gap has not yet arrived at Harvard, it is not a surprise that the gap has developed in general, according to Kuziemko.

"In the past 20-30 years, the typical high school girl has significantly raised her test scores, grades, and the difficulty of her classes relative to the typical high school boy," she said.

The NBER paper also attributes the rise in female undergraduate participation to the rise in women's labor force participation and the increase in the average age for women getting married for the first time.