Giving Compass' Take:
- This research brief explores how gender gaps in education will impact academic outcomes for men and women across the United States.
- How can this information help improve education? What role can you play in supporting students who are being left behind?
- Learn more about the global gender gap in education.
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There are wide gender gaps in education in the U.S. and across the economically advanced nations, as I describe in my new book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It (Brookings Institution Press, 2022).
But how does the gender gap in educational outcomes vary across the U.S.? That’s the question addressed in this note and accompanying interactives.
In every U.S. state, young women are more likely than their male counterparts to have a bachelor’s degree. The education gender gap emerges well before college, however: girls are more likely to graduate high school on time and perform substantially better on standardized reading tests than boys (and about as well in math). In this piece, we dive into how these gaps differ — or stay the same — across the U.S.
Girls Getting Degrees
In 1970, just 12 percent of young women (ages 25 to 34) had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20 percent of men — a gap of eight percentage points. By 2020, that number had risen to 41 percent for women but only to 32 percent for men — a nine percentage–point gap, now going the other way. That means there are currently 1.6 million more young women with a bachelor’s degree than men. To put it into perspective, that’s just less than the population of West Virginia.
The U.S. made great strides in improving overall educational attainment in the last fifty years, but progress has been uneven across states and by gender. We show here the share of those ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher by state using the American Community Survey. Figure 1 shows the share of young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in every U.S. state, by sex.
Both the gender gap and total educational attainment vary across the states. Young adults in Mississippi, for instance, are less likely to have a bachelor’s than young adults in any other state. The share of Mississippi young men with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 was just 18 percent — two points lower than the U.S. male share in 1970. By contrast, about half of men (49 percent) had a bachelor’s degree in Massachusetts, which is higher than the share of women with a bachelor’s degree in all but three states.
Although there are many more college grads in Massachusetts than in Mississippi, in both states young women are about ten percentage points more likely to have a bachelor’s than their male peers (the length of the gray bars). To account for the wide variation in overall attainment rates, we also show the ratio of women to men with a bachelor’s degree (just hover over a state to see this number). For example, Mississippi’s young women are 52 percent more likely than men to have a bachelor’s, and Massachusetts’ young women are 19 percent more likely.
Read the full article about gender gaps in education by Richard V. Reeves and Ember Smith at Brookings.