The male graduate shortage

In July, I noted the curious absence of men in the study of fertility. I’d become interested in this issue because of the debate over whether HECS was having a negative effect on rates of childbirth among university-educated women. I concluded that the main cause of low birthrates in this group was the absence of husbands. One of my suggestions, due to the fact that female graduates significantly outnumber male graduates, was that:

University educated women being more willing to marry men without degrees would make a difference…

An article in yesterday’s Australian, based on a study I unfortunately haven’t yet been able to obtain, suggests that this was not good advice.

WOMEN with tertiary educations who choose as a partner men who have not finished high school are 10 times more likely to separate or get divorced than women whose education is less than or equal to their partner’s.


10 times more likely! But

where men had the tertiary qualifications and women did not complete high school — did not demonstrate an increased risk of subsequent marital instability and, if anything, showed greater than average stability.

This is the double crunch facing facing university-educated women Too few suitable men to begin with, and then some of the already insufficient pool of university-educated men happily go marry the receptionist.

I had a look at the ABS’s new CDATA product, which lets members of the public create their own census tables. Their data suggests that female bachelor degree holders are about half as likely again as male bachelor degree holders to be divorced (7.4% versus 5%). Another 2.5% of female graduates and 2% of male graduates were separated at the time of the census.

Ladies, it is all bad news.

21 Responses to “The male graduate shortage

  • 1
    Cathy
    November 6th, 2008 21:52

    I must admit, one of the things I have never understood about men is why so many of them seem perfectly content to marry women who are much stupider than themselves. I just couldn’t imagine doing that…

  • 2
    Yobbo
    November 6th, 2008 22:07

    I must admit, one of the things I have never understood about men is why so many of them seem perfectly content to marry women who are much stupider than themselves.

    It’s because men don’t base their self-worth on the education or status of their spouse. Whereas most women are more concerned about their husbands job/status than they are their own.

  • 3
    conrad
    November 7th, 2008 07:02

    You could give Ernie awards all around for this one, both the articles and the comments — The divorce rates amongst different groups do not tell you whether it is the male or female that are at the heart of it. Males may feel inferior to their wives, for example, if they are more successful than them (it’s common in some Asian cultures — and sure to exist to a lesser extent with Australian whites also), so you might alternatively suggest that males should start trying to marry up and not worry about it rather than females marrying down (in fact, it’s a probably a function of both of these things). There are also sure to be non-random selection effects. If people marry in socially atypical circumstances (i.e., not marrying someone as close as possible to themselves based on categories defined by social norms), then (a) it is almost bound to be the case that their personal characteristics are different to the normal population and (b) they are more likely to get divorced. So the comparison between high males/low females versus low males/high females isn’t fair, because the first is socially typical whereas the second isn’t.

  • 4
    Andrew Norton
    November 7th, 2008 08:04

    Conrad – You seem to be doing what everyone else is doing; pointing out that there are different gender expectations in marriage. The distribution of education between the sexes does not support this, and the two groups paying the marital price are educated women and uneducated men.

  • 5
    daiskmeliadorn
    November 7th, 2008 08:42

    Ladies, it is all bad news.

    Unless you’re a lesbian, which is all good news.

  • 6
    Spiros
    November 7th, 2008 14:04

    “It’s because men don’t base their self-worth on the education or status of their spouse.”

    Nah, it’s because dumb women are better in the sack.

  • 7
    ACTOldFart
    November 7th, 2008 15:48

    It all fits completely happily with what evolutionary psychology tells us. Its sensible for women to marry ‘up’ – to higher-status males. Only the higher-status men in the tribe can provide women with the support and resources they need during the demanding times of pregnancy and nutrition.

    The feminists may not like it, but EP explains a whole lot more about how the world works than their self-serving diatribes about ‘socially-constructed gender roles’

    “the fault, dear Portia, lies not in our stars, but in our genes .. ”
    (pace Shakespeare)

  • 8
    christine
    November 8th, 2008 01:05

    Or the more educated women earn higher salaries and are less dependent on men for financial wellbeing and so can actually survive a divorce if they want one, while less educated women can’t. And this is asymmetric across genders because women are more likely to be looking after the kids after a divorce, so have to be able to earn at least as much as the cost of childcare (not so easy; ); and less educated women earn less and have fewer job opportunities than less educated men. (I’m ignoring spousal and child support here, which no doubt complicates the picture a lot.) So actually, the highly educated women could be better off?

    But really, inferring that some particular group is paying a price from marriage/fertility/divorce stats is a bit dodgy. Too many things going on.

    Isn’t this where it’s a good idea to go a bit liberal/libertarian and just assume that everyone’s just muddling through as best they can, and trying to give out one size fits all advice on who should marry who is a bit pointless?

    Also, Andrew: what do you mean by the distribution of education doesn’t support the notion of different gender expectations in marriage? Do you really think that education decisions are largely based on how education affects marriage/ divorce?

  • 9
    conrad
    November 8th, 2008 06:11

    “It all fits completely happily with what evolutionary psychology tells us”

    You don’t believe that junk do you? most of it is untestable, and when even the testable stuff turns out to be wrong, the theories don’t get changed!

  • 10
    Andrew Norton
    November 8th, 2008 07:11

    Christine – No, I don’t think many people think about the partnering implications of their education choices. But I think the relatively poor partnering outcomes that we see for university-educated women and men with little education are not coincidence, and an unintended consequence of the massive improvements in female education while males have lagged behind.

    That the man cannot fulfil the traditional male breadwinner role to the level the available women expect is surely part of the explanation. The level of full-time female workforce participation hasn’t increased by that much, even among university-educated women, which suggests (as other survey evidence shows) that men are expected to provide the household’s main financial support while women are in charge of domestic and childrearing matters.

    And I expect tastes change with education too; after uni the guy whose idea of fun is drinking beer with his mates while watching footy is perhaps not so attractive?

    I haven’t explored the well-being of this group of women, perhaps they are better off all things considered. The men certainly aren’t better off – I have seen research on them and they have low self-reported well-being.

  • 11
    charles
    November 8th, 2008 09:36

    My daughter ( who has a degree) says she is pissed off because they are not even capable of changing a car tire. Am surprised she has had that many flat tires, but that’s her complaint.

  • 12
    daiskmeliadorn
    November 8th, 2008 10:09

    christine, good points, and thank you for making a sensible contribution to this debate :)

  • 13
    Yobbo
    November 11th, 2008 00:48

    Funnily enough, the set of “men who can change a car tire” intersects quite heavily with “men who enjoy drinking beer and watching footy”.

    Women want the man who can fix a leaky tap and change a flat tyre but then also expect that same man to appreciate fine wines and opera?

    It’s unrealistic

  • 14
    Cathy
    November 11th, 2008 06:59

    If flat tires are such a problem, why not just join the NRMA? Or even better, learn how to do it yourself?

  • 15
    Rafe
    November 11th, 2008 11:56

    Flat tyres are so rare these days, I suspect that a lot of young drivers have never had one and it is so long since I changed a wheel (never mind changing a tyre!) that I would be a bit hesitant, especiallly with an audience.

  • 16
    christine
    November 19th, 2008 05:19

    Thanks for the response, Andrew. I’m mostly raising questions because the slow increase in male education levels interests me in my more academic role. I’m a bit less keen on the economics (or whatever) of marriage, though – it’s certainly interesting, and the regularity of some of the empirical findings, like age gaps, is really quite surprising, and yep, agreed it does definitely look like there’s a breadwinner effect for men. But figuring out policy implications seems to me a bit difficult.

    Yobbo: well, personally, I’d be pretty happy with a man who could manage one or the other, really (as long as the wine loving opera goer can manage a bit of light housework to compensate for me doing basic home repairs/maintenance). I personally find the instructions on changing tyres (OK, wheels) that come in the car owner’s manual pretty clear; and fixing leaky taps is also pretty simple with the help of a basic home maintenance book (I admit reliance on books is a bit woosy).

    Does the video mean TISM can change my car tyre? Cool! I have to point out, though, that they appear to be mostly drinking beer and trashing the room, and then beating up the aerobics guy, which though no doubt cathartic for them is perhaps not a great plus in the marriage stakes? :)

  • 17
    Andrew Norton
    November 19th, 2008 12:33

    Christine – Education levels overall are increasing, but the gender imbalance is getting worse. In the 1997-2007 period, Australian males fell from 42.2% of all graduations to 40.5%. Among overseas students, males are still a majority, but also a declining one, from 52.8% of all completions in 1997 to 51.3% in 2007. As many of them stay in Australia, this may improve the graduate gender ratios a bit.

  • 18
    Cathy
    November 19th, 2008 16:50

    Andrew, having just completed a degree in maths, I didn’t realize that the gender imbalance in favour of women was that large. But aren’t quite a lot of these female graduates headed for comparatively low-status jobs like teaching and nursing that require a degree these days (but didn’t 30 years ago)? I think the average male wage is still higher than the average female wage, although I guess the fact that women are much more likely to be in part time work complicates the issue.

  • 19
    Andrew Norton
    November 19th, 2008 17:17

    Cathy – I have male and female completions for nursing and teaching since 2001, and I have just calculated completions removing both those fields of study (though the nursing sisterhood would be furious with your suggestion that these aren’t real degree fields of study).

    This does change the numbers, but they are still pretty bad from a gender balance perspective: over 2001 to 2007 males drop from 46% to 43.6%.

    This is actually quite rapid social and economic change, but the education of boys has fallen off the political radar, and the education of young men was never seriously on it.

  • 20
    Cathy
    November 19th, 2008 18:45

    Andrew, I didn’t say that nursing isn’t a real degree field of study, I said that it wasn’t 30 years ago! I think we could argue that medicine is now much more high tech than it was, and so nurses need to be more highly trained than they were.
    Education studies, however, are a totally different story! Right from the beginning, I always regarded my B.Ed as an exercise in pure credentialism, and unfortunately, except for the practicum (which actually was quite useful) I my expectations were resoundingly confirmed. One (arguably) good thing about Ed Studies, though, is that they require minimal effort, hence leaving more time available for the fun stuff, like maths…
    (Back on topic…) I think that if we want to understand what is going on with rates of male participation in higher education we really need to look at what is happening much earlier in the education process.

  • 21
    Andrew Norton
    November 19th, 2008 19:01

    I’m still promising Russell to see if I can work out to what extent the increase in low SES participation is due to occupations like nursing becoming degree based, but I see from these stats that it can’t explain much of the increase in male participation, because there are still only small numbers of men studying nursing.