Utah: the last bastion of male domination

By By Matthew Homer and By Matthew Homer

By Matthew Homer

American women are outpacing men just about everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except Utah.

Nationwide, more women are receiving bachelor’s degrees each year than their male counterparts, and with a significant margin. How does the U fare? Unlike most places in the nation, men at the U still make up the lion’s share of bachelor’s degree recipients.

In fact, it appears the gap between male and female graduates at the U is widening. Local and national trends are running in opposite directions-the U toward more male graduates and the nation toward more female.

When I came across this finding several days ago, I was a bit surprised, but not at all shocked. After all, Utah refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Before finding the cause of this aberration, let’s consider some statistics. As a nation, 42 percent of all university students are male, but at the U it’s more than 55 percent. Nationwide, nearly 57 percent of the all bachelor’s degree recipients are female, but at the U it’s closer to 45 percent.

Why is the U struggling with female graduation when most universities are facing the opposite situation? Some schools have even begun an affirmative action campaign to increase the number of male students. Others have used subtler tactics, such as including more photos of men in their recruitment materials.

At the U, on the other hand, women are the minority. Fewer women than men enter the U and even fewer are graduating. But, for those who do come, they tend to do better than their male colleagues-at least by a measure of GPA. This begs the question: If women are better students, then why aren’t more coming out to benefit from higher education?

Is it the U or Utah? According to a report by Lecia Langston at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, this state has the largest gender-degree gap in the entire nation. Utah also has the highest birthrate and percentage of young marriages. The median age for Utah brides is just 21 years. Are Utah women avoiding or leaving college early to get married?

In Utah, the male breadwinner stereotype remains strong and pervasive. The man’s role is to provide for his family and the woman’s role is to nurture. Even those women who choose to work are paid much less than men. In Utah, women earn approximately 67 cents for every dollar earned by a man-the fourth-largest earnings gap in the nation.

Connected to this breadwinner stereotype is the notion of male entitlement. “If a man’s god-given position is at the head of a family, then why should he have to compete with a woman?” Anecdotal evidence for this attitude is plentiful.

Consider the example of my mother. Although she had always dreamed of attending medical school, she was told that being a doctor was a right reserved for men. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she worked in a medical laboratory where one of her male co-workers told her to go home. “You are taking the place of a man,” he said.

Social pressures in Utah promulgate the belief that men study to become breadwinners and women attend school to become good wives. Once a husband has been found, there’s not much point in continuing school, at least not at the expense of the man’s education.

A newly married woman may drop out, work for a while (with the intention of returning) to help pay for her husband’s education, and never make it back. I’m sure many of us have seen this happen.

Now, you may not agree with this point of view. The explanation I’ve offered is only a possibility. But, whatever you believe the reason to be, the fact remains that men dominate graduates at the U.

The nation reached gender parity among graduates in the early 1980s and the U is still trying catch up. Unfortunately, things appear to have taken a turn in the wrong direction. The late 1990s and early 2000s witnessed a narrowing of the gap, but since that time, it has expanded.

Are Utah women giving up their education for the enticing prospect of marriage, or is there something else at play?