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Men Are Becoming the Undereducated Gender

Men Are Becoming the Undereducated Gender

Photograph by Andersen Ross

Craig Torres of Bloomberg News has an alarming story today about how men are lagging in the job market because of under-education.

“It is terrific that women are getting higher levels of education,” Harvard University economist David Autor told Torres. “The problem is that males are not.”

This chart, based on data I downloaded today from the National Center for Education Statistics, shows the education gap between men and women is long-standing—and getting worse. By 2019, the center projects, there will be nearly three women in college classrooms for every two men.

The marketplace is shouting loud and clear that going to college pays off. The unemployment rate in March for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher was just 4.2 percent (PDF), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last Friday. The rate for people with a high school education was 8 percent, while the rate for people with no high school diploma was 12.6 percent.

Aside from a vigorous wringing of hands, no one has come up with a very good response to this problem. Right now, too many young men who don’t go to college end up doing nothing but mooching off their parents and girlfriends. I think one solution is to get more of them who aren’t college-bound into training programs where they can learn usable technical skills, from plumbing to computer programming. (Promise: No parsing of sonnets required for graduation.) A marketable skill will enable them to earn a living and have hope for the future. Some may be inspired to go for bachelor’s degrees later.

Sean Collins-Harris, the 28-year-old Virginian featured in Torres’s story, shows what’s possible. He was in prison for gun- and drug-possession charges when he realized an education was his only ticket out of the underclass. He got a bachelor’s degree, and eventually a master’s. Now he’s a property manager, counseling inmates at the prison he once occupied.

Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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