| 03.24.2018

Demystifying the gender gap – Researchers explore why more women go to college than men

Fifty-three percent of Idaho women go on to pursue higher education immediately after high school, compared to only 38 percent of Idaho men, according to a study produced late last year. The study, commissioned by the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research said that while this gender gap isn”t unique to Idaho, it is significantly higher than the national average of 9 percent.  

Patricia Salant, director of the McClure center, said she attributes the gender gap to two main aspects. First, there are more jobs available to male graduates than female right out of high school. Salant said for example, many men go directly into the military. She said because of this, men may feel that there is a greater economic advantage to going straight into the workforce.

Second, she said there is a large population of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Idaho.

“Young men in the LDS church often go on missions,” Salant said.

Salant said the McClure Center study is still too new to track the college attendance of returning missionaries.

Yet Cathleen McHugh, principal research analyst from the Idaho State Board of Education, said she thinks the gender gap runs deeper than Mormon missionaries.

McHugh, who conducted a similar study into the go-on rates across Idaho up to three years beyond high school graduation, said the gender gap persists across all regions of Idaho. So, she concluded that the gap cannot be entirely due to missions.

Her study, “Idaho”s gender Gap in Go-On Rates,” perpetuates the idea that more women than men are attending college, even up to three years after graduation.

According to the study, 70 percent of Idaho women went on to college within three years of high school graduation compared to only 57 percent Idaho of men in 2012, showing that men returning from missions may not be enrolling in college.

McHugh said she did take large LDS populations into account. She said when analyzing the regions of Idaho, she hypothesized that southeastern Idaho, which has a much more prominent LDS population, would be more affected by gender-based differential go-on rates than other regions, including northern Idaho.

However, the study”s data showed that there is only one region of Idaho where there is consistent evidence that men simply chose to go on to college later than women. Across the board, in all regions, McHugh said the gender gap persists. The fact that this happens in all regions, McHugh said, is what supports the fact that missions are not one of the significant causes of the gender gap.

“(The study) has shown the gap does not go away as more time elapses from graduation,” she said.

Salant said there is a significant difference in the rationale between female and male college students. Salant said girls see the opportunities that college will present more often than boys.

The McClure Center study found that 75 percent of high school students said their parents most influenced their post-high school decisions.

Yet Salant said the McClure Center study found the go-on rate problem was less about access to information, and more about personal ideology or beliefs.

Carly Scott  can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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