Posted by: Gregory Linton | 07/28/2011

Gender Gap in Higher Education Affects Unemployment

McKinsey Global Institute, “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future”

In earlier posts, I have written about the gender gap in higher education, its causes, and its consequences. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute revealed two facts about unemployment that relate to the gender gap issue.

First, the authors note that in 2020, 56.5 million members of the workforce (about 34%) will have college or graduate degrees. However, to achieve a high-job growth scenario, that will leave 1.5 million too few college graduates. More disturbingly, they find that there will be 5.9 million more high school dropouts in 2020 that jobs available for workers with that level of education.

Second, they found that 20% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working today. Here is a quotation from page 11 of the full report:

Men were particularly hard hit in this recession, accelerating a disturbing trend of prime working-age males leaving the labor force. From 1950 to 1970, 93 percent of prime working-age men (25 to 54 years old) were gainfully employed. By 2010, that share had dropped to 80 percent, indicating that one in five prime working-age men are not working; more than half of this decline occurred between 2007 and 2010. The reasons for this decline are not fully understood: some young men are high school dropouts who never entered the labor force (or have worked only outside the formal economy); some are “discouraged” former members of the labor force; and some are incarcerated.

These statistics point toward a fact about the current unemployment situation that is rarely discussed in the media: The largest proportion of the unemployed population are males without a college degree. I would like to see the unemployment figures broken down into these four categories: males with college degrees, females with college degrees, females without college degrees, and males without college degrees. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide this breakdown.

They do, however, break down the unemployment numbers by educational attainment. In June 2011, only 4.5% of the civilian population with a college degree was unemployed. By contrast, 10% of those with no college experience and 13% of those with no high school diploma were unemployed. They also provide a breakdown by sex. In June 2011, there were 7.42 million men and 5.48 million women 20 years and older who were unemployed. I suggest that a major reason for the higher numbers of unemployed men is that they are less educated than women.

I suspect a major contributor to our dismal economy and high unemployment is the high percentage of adult males who lack a college education (and of course high school diploma as well). The lack of educated males will continue to be a drag on our economy.

And what are those unemployed, undereducated males doing with their time? As I suggested in previous posts, there is a higher percentage of divorce, crime, alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression among them than among the employed male population.

In the McKinsey report, the authors offer brief suggestions for developing the workforce of tomorrow, but they fail to mention the one element that I think is key to our economy and society. We simply must have much higher percentages of males earn high school diplomas and complete college degrees. But this key sociological trend is totally ignored by the media and largely ignored in higher education.

What can be done to change these trends? It seems to me that we simply must accept the fact that we are not educating boys in ways that help them learn–and especially not in ways that help them enjoy learning. Education must be oriented more toward the character and interests of boys beginning in the elementary years. As a father of two second-grade boys, I would very much like to see that. Unfortunately, elementary education is largely designed and implemented by women and oriented toward the girls. If this does not change, we will continue to ensure that 1 out of 5 of our boys will not become productive members of society.

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