The Supposed Plight of University Men

The Globe seems rather agitated about the plight of  male university students . On top of a front page story by Elizabeth Church yesterday pointing out the now rather well known fact that female undergraduate enrollment now outstrips male enrollment by a margin of 58% to 42%, they editorialize today as follows:

“Indira Samarasekera, the president of the University of Alberta, was right to show concern for the future education of Canada’s young men…

The barbs that have been directed at Ms. Samarasekera are unwarranted and shortsighted. She warned that the country’s universities are unwittingly building a “demographic bomb”: for the first time, men are noticeably underrepresented at Canadian universities, accounting for only 42 per cent of their students despite making up half the nation’s population.

She worries “that we’ll wake up in 20 years and we will not have the benefit of enough male talent at the heads of companies and elsewhere,”

The editorial does go on to note that “women hold only 5 per cent of the country’s top jobs and are, on average, still paid less than men.” But they could have considerably amplified this by noting that increased university enrollment among women relative to men has had absolutely no impact to date on the pay gap between male and female university graduates.  Indeed the ratio of pay of full time/full year women university graduates to male graduates has fallen from a peak of 72% in the mid 1990s.  The most likely explanation is that men continue to dominate well-paid professional and managerial jobs requiring a university education in the private sector, while women predominate in lower paid public sector jobs requiring a university degree. The shift of income to the very high end of the income distribution has overwhelmingly favored men over women. In short, the hold of men on top positions in the Canadian job market is scarcely threatened.

The research basis for the above can be found in a recent CLC paper “Women in the Workforce: Still a Long Way from Equality.”


  • There also seems to be the general misconception that university graduates make significantly more, on average, than those with a college or high school education. In fact, for one quarter of all university graduates, the net value of a university degree is negative: their annual earnings are less than the the average earnings of those with just a high school diploma.

  • Of course women are a long way from equality, but I have to agree that young men are being sold quite a bill of goods these days via popular culture. TV shows glorify the male idiots, products are sold via the Male Idiot. It’s like no one is offering up the Responsible Respectable Guy as a role model. Women are Tarts and men are Idiots. That’s the message. Its pretty disheartening.

  • The meme that “men are being discriminated against” is annoying at best. Women, having achieved much more equal opportunities to education are proving to be either smarter or harder-working or both. Maybe the boys could level out the playing field if they stopped smoking pot at recess.

  • Any comment that does not look at the gendered distribution of enrolment by department / program is going to give a misleading picture. It is shocking that a University president would engage in such reactionary comment. Equally annoying is the “white man’s world meme” that stands in for analysis. Or pot smoking boys.

    Gender, race, and dare I say CLASS are all necessary conceptual tools to grasp the dynamics at play in university enrolment and the labour market more generally.

  • “It is shocking that a University president would engage in such reactionary comment.”


    Can I take this to mean that you believe that the present overall ration of 58 to 42 is a socially desirable optimal measure? If secondary school discontinuation rates were higher for males than females, would that also be a socially optimal outcome?

  • In short, the hold of men on top positions in the Canadian job market is scarcely threatened.

    Men do not, as some kind of collective entity, hold these positions. A small minority of individuals do. The vast majority of men enjoy no such “hold.”

    Indeed, men have suffered all of the net employment loss during the economic crisis. Female employment has actually increased slightly over the past year.

    We cannot conclude that every area in which women (on average) fall behind is an instance of gender discrimination, but dismiss those cases in which men (on average) fall behind.

  • Rod,

    I can only think that you did not read the original article nor my comment very closely. The reactionary (actually probably more like misplaced populism) part came in when the president made the leap from decreased male (increased female) enrolment to a future where men would not be well represented in the higher echelons of business. Given she is the president of a university she would have at her finger tips the gender breakdown for every program. I doubt that women are the majority in engineering, med, accounting, economics, ect., ect. All of which tend to be the educational paths to higher management (unless of course you come from the bourgeoisie then it depends). It was reactionary because it was kitchen party commentary that barely touched on social reality. And that is shocking for a university president who has tons of information and experts to call-on.


    I agree and there was a grain of truth to the presidents commentary that young men do not take their studies seriously when they know resource and construction jobs are plentiful. That puts them in the highly cyclical and long side of the job market. But given the diminishing returns to a BA I can see why many young men go for the 40-60 a year jobs rather than the more secure 30-40 year jobs in the care and welfare sector. I suspect the jacking up of tuition fees further tilted the balance.

    It would be good to get some funding and actually attempt to quantitatively and qualitatively assess what is actually going on with young men.

  • rentier fungicide

    Armine Yalnizian (whose marvellousness is without parrallel) was at pains some weeks ago on TVO to dispell, if not the fact, at least the spin that what we have now is a he-cession, perhaps wary of the backlash towards women that might result. I am minded of the historian Ute Fevert’s point about women’s increasing employment during the Weimar republic (and men’s relative decline in employment compared to women from 1927 to 1933): employers hired women in greater numbers, Frevert argues in one of her articles, precisely because it was deemed socially acceptable to pay women less for work of equal value. And much of the attractiveness of the Nazis to young men resulted from the latter’s discomfiture at changing gender roles in the workplace. So two questions: is there evidence that women’s wages tend to be less sticky than men’s? And, in regard to educational enrollment, or employment, and a host of areas where men are seeing their performance decline relative to women, may it not be in women’s long-term benefit that action be taken to moderate men’s relative underperformance?

  • Yes, Erin, the working class comes in two genders and the male part has borne the brunt of the recession. But men still dominate the top of the occupational scale and the income ladder, and I don’t see that as especially threatened by higher female undergrad graduation rates. The Globe seems to sense a threat, however.

  • I think that concern about lagging male university enrolment may be legitimate. But I agree that the concern about a prospective shortage of “male talent at the heads of companies” is ridiculous.

    Similarly, I am not convinced that having more female CEOs should be a social priority. Our goal should be less inequality between CEOs and workers, not just a more even distribution of this inequality between genders.

  • Erin, by this very same argument, perhaps having more male university grads should not be a social priority. Instead, we should focus on increasing university enrollment for lower-income youth regardless of gender.

    In short – either gender matters and we fight for equality between men and women, which includes fighting against the glass ceiling for women, or gender does not, in which case the gender breakdown of university grads is about as important as the breakdown of straight-haired vs curly-haired grads. Pick one.

  • Erin said:

    “Similarly, I am not convinced that having more female CEOs should be a social priority. Our goal should be less inequality between CEOs and workers, not just a more even distribution of this inequality between genders.”

    Oy, Erin! Come back to us!! No reason why both projects of freedom can’t be worked on simultaneously as circumstances demand.

  • Iglika, the inconsistency that you see in my comment is the same one that I saw in the original post. If gender parity is our standard, then we should not scoff at concerns about low male enrolment in university.

    However, I do not think that a goal of gender parity is the only reason for such concerns. Even if the goal is simply to have more people (regardless of gender) gain a university education, then we should investigate what factors may be discouraging half of the population from doing so.

  • Ah watching the left try to keep three conceptual balls in the air all at the same time is always amusing and disheartening.

    There was a nice little model of discrimination and involuntary unemployment wrapped inside a microeconomic account of the firm which was formalized by Sam Bowles back when he was a Marxist in the eighties. Search AER 1985 or 84 if memory serves correct.

    Formalisms to the side, I am not going to get out of bed over male BA enrollment rates nor female chief executive prospects. Although in some de-socialized and de-politicized sense I can understand why both could be of concern.

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