News / Toronto

Are women 'studying for two?’

Long before conception, women know innately they may have to provide for their eventual children alone, so they’re studying harder than men and besting them at college and university — or so one theory goes.

Lionel Tiger, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, is an expert on the modern male, having written several books on the subject and coined the term “male bonding.”

He gave the keynote speech last week at a fundraiser held by the Canadian Association For Equality.

He said men used to be able to get a date and a mate because they could provide for women and their babies. Now, he says, women are expected to work, too, and single-motherhood is common; with the advent of birth control, men have generally lost control over contraception and fatherhood.

This is why he believes men are falling behind in post-secondary education.

“The females on the other hand are studying harder, and do you know why? Because they’re studying for two,” he said. “Eighty-five per cent of women have children (in their lifetimes) and these women, without thinking it through, without analyzing it, somehow sense that they’re going to have (children) and they may have to do it themselves. That motivates them to study in a manner guys cannot do, because what’s the point?”

In an interview with Metro, Tiger said anywhere there’s a gender gap it’s wise to first consider the “reproductive implications,” which is how he came to this theory.

As for his assertion that women are doing this “without thinking it through,” he said a human’s biological plans are rarely detailed and specific.

By some measures, this generation of women is outpacing men in post-secondary education. Statistics Canada reports that in 2011 72 per cent of women and only 65 of men aged 25 to 44 have completed a post-secondary education. In the generation that is now 65 or older, only 34.5 per cent of women and 45 per cent of men had completed post-secondary education.

Women are enrolled more in the humanities than men, whereas money-making disciplines in engineering and architecture are still male-dominated, said Tiger.

Tiger said he does not know why, if women are preparing to provide for their children alone, they wouldn’t flock to disciplines that would offer better job prospects.

Economist Ross Finnie and his colleagues did an extensive study of student-aid recipients in 2010. They found that not only are more women than men starting university; they’re more likely to complete their degree.

“You have to ask what’s going on with young men, why don’t they see the benefits, or why are they simply unable to prepare for post-secondary education,” he said. “The implications could be profoundly important on an economic and social level.

“Studying for two (is) an interesting hypothesis,” he said. “Are women correctly predicting the future where they will be the major breadwinners, and that’s why they’re doing this? They may be.”

Impact of family status on students

One thing that is known about participation in higher education is that children of highly educated parents are much more likely to pursue post-secondary education — regardless of their economic status.

So a child of a wealthy but uneducated family is less likely to go to college or university than a child of a poor but well-educated family, said economist Ross Finnie.

Some studies, including Finnie’s 2010 survey of student-aid recipients, indicate that families save up more money for male children to pursue higher education than females, but more study is needed, he said.

That study also found that female students worry about their debt to a higher degree than their male counterparts.

There’s no evidence to suggest that concern prompts them to study hard and complete university at higher rates than men, but it bears further study, he said. “A conjecture is a conjecture, a hypothesis is a hypothesis, and before you investigate it empirically, it remains a hypothesis,” he said.

More on