It’s been a fairly open secret for years that some colleges give a preference to men in admissions, but as far as I know it’s never been shown in an empirical study before. From the Montreal Gazette:
Men appear to be given preference in admissions as university applicant pools become more female, a provocative new study has found.
Raising the spectre of affirmative action for a group not historically disadvantaged but increasingly under-represented in undergraduate classes, the study examined admissions data from 13 liberal arts colleges in the United States and estimated a tipping point for male preference kicks in when the female applicant pool reaches between 53 and 62 per cent. The study found “clear evidence” of a preference for men in historically female U.S. colleges.
There, being a male applicant raises the probability of acceptance by 6.5 to nine per cent.
“Schools can certainly have more than 50 per cent females and not give preference. But at some point, if females become too dominant, they do seem to give preference to males,” lead author Sandy Baum said in an interview.
Results of the study, completed by economists from New York’s Skidmore College and Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, will be published in a coming edition of the journal Economics of Education Review.
There are thousands of unspoken “affirmative actions” to help men in our society, helping some men into the good job tracks, the positions of authority, the better gallery shows, etc. I’d argue that our entire “Father Knows Best” economy is a covert form of AA that helps men in the job market. Things like this happen all the time.
What’s reported on in this article actually seems like one of the least harmful forms of AA for men. The resource in question – admission to college – is essentially unlimited; the very few unlucky female students who might not get admitted to college X because of this sort of policy will get into college Y instead.
But I’m curious: Why do colleges feel the need to do this? From a “diversity” perspective, there’s really not a significant difference between a student body that’s 50% male and one that’s 40% male; neither one can really be said to be lacking male perspectives in their student population. I presume that tuition money from women spends just as easily as tuition money from men. So what’s so scary about a female-majority campus?
Elsewhere in the article, it mentions that an admissions committee at McGill University suggested that good grades are overemphasized as a measure of student achievement, and might be biased against men:
The committee [discussed]… a more qualitative and less grade-driven admission process. “The application of grades as the sole measure of academic merit may not, in fact, be without an inherent bias,” state the minutes of the admissions committee…
That’s an interesting contrast with a comment made about the “are men better at math” question by Harvard professor Elizabeth Spelke:
Books are devoted to this question, with much debate, but there seems to be a consensus on one point: The only way to come up with a test that’s fair is to develop an independent understanding of what mathematical aptitude is and how it’s distributed between men and women. But in that case, we can’t use performance on the SAT to give us that understanding. We’ve got to get that understanding in some other way. So how are we going to get it? [...]
I suggest the following experiment. We should take a large number of male students and a large number of female students who have equal educational backgrounds, and present them with the kinds of tasks that real mathematicians face. We should give them new mathematical material that they have not yet mastered, and allow them to learn it over an extended period of time: the kind of time scale that real mathematicians work on. We should ask, how well do the students master this material? The good news is, this experiment is done all the time. It’s called high school and college.
Here’s the outcome. In high school, girls and boys now take equally many math classes, including the most advanced ones, and girls get better grades.
So apparently the ability to do well in classes is a false, biased measure of the ability to go to college and… do well in classes. Huh.
I could buy that if we were talking about a group that was substantially disadvantaged – denied access to decent textbooks, AP classes, a reasonably good school, or whatever. If you told me that the grades of the students at the poorest high schools in the USA weren’t a fair reflection of their abilities, for example, I’d be inclined to agree. But I don’t think that boys in general are given less resources for learning than girls in general.
Thanks to “Alas” reader Mel for the tip.