Addicted to novelty since 2001

Universities and Gender

I was recently flipping through MacLean’s infamous magazine that annually ranks Canadian universities. In truth, I don’t think this has a lot of meaning outside of academic circles, but there was one recurring fact that surprised one–way more young women attend university than young men.

Now, I was aware that this was a trend, but I wasn’t aware of how dramatic the gender gap has become. Check out the stats from a sampling of universities (male-to-female):

Guelph: 37 to 63
Brock: 39 to 61
Dalhousie: 43 to 57
McGill: 40 to 60
Ottawa: 41 to 59

The most recent national stats I could find were from the 1999-2000 school year. Nationally, 102,790 women entered university while only 72,765 men did. That’s a ratio of 58.5 to 41.5, and I suspect the ensuing four years have only increased that gap.

This gives hope to the feminist in me. Clearly, if we’re training a majority of women, they’re likelier to become tomorrow’s leaders. At the same time, I wonder why, increasingly, young men aren’t going to university? Are the girls just working harder than the boys? Is there a gender bias in high school? In light of 500 years of academic gender disparity, should this be a cause for concern at all?

I’m certainly not advocating for some kind of affirmative action to get more men into university. Currently, female academics interested in becoming professors benefit from these kind of equality policies. How long will it be before those policies work against female scholars instead of for them? Not long, from the looks of the numbers.

4 Responses to “Universities and Gender”

  1. donna

    Actually, this isn’t as huge a change as most would think.

    In 1920, 47% of college students were women. This dropped to 35% in 1958, but went back up in the 60s and 70s.

    The difference is, women have a few more options once they get out of college. Yay us. I’d be more interested in knowing WHAT women were taking — are we all going to be teachers, or is there going to be a mathemetician or two?

    Not that I’m a very good example there… I’m taking women’s studies, for christs sake. :)

  2. Andrea Coutu

    Hi Darren,

    Within individual schools, it would be interesting to compare faculty participation rates. At some Canadian universities, women now account for more than 50% of students in non-traditional programs, such as science and business. But women tend to be relatively rare in engineering, hard sciences, and many non-Arts graduate programs.
    I wonder if perhaps some men pursue business, technical or trades training, while their female counterparts major in Philosophy. In such cases, the men could end up with more career and income opportunities, even though they never attended university. Many Arts degrees are female ghettoes — SFU Women’s Studies grads earn about $18,000 a year. Perhaps men have clued in about the earning potential for Arts grads. Men accounted for about 10% of students in my English degree, but 75% of students in my Executive MBA.


  3. Darren

    The page I cited ( includes a breakdown based on gender and field. The areas where men significantly exceed women are Engineering and Applied Sciences (roughly 3 women for every 10 men, but steadily improving) and Mathematics and Physical Sciences (about 1 women for every 2 men, and improving as well). If those trends continue, those last two categories will become more or less equalized over the next 20 years.

    So, I don’t think it’s a question of men “clueing in”. After all, they’ve always worked in those fields. Instead, it’s an issue of women with moving into these traditionally male-dominated fields. The same thing has already happened in law programs, which now generally graduate more women than men.

    Additionally, the federal government has programs dedicated to encouraging girls into the maths and sciences. Oddly, they don’t have programs encouraging more boys to become nurses or ballet dancers.

  4. donna

    It’s not politically correct for men to be nurses or ballerinas yet. We need a meninist movement before that’ll happen.

    Or, perhaps the people who focus on feminism will realize that ALL genders suffer from discrimination, and regardless of who has the power, it would be nice if we were all equal. Gender equality (or better yet, gender irrelevancy) would be rather nice. Blah.

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