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SeXX Shift: Will Women Wear White Collars, Men Blue?

January 13, 2009

The University of California, Davis, no longer looks like your father’s campus. But it very well may be your daughter’s.

In the span of a single generation, enrollment at UC Davis has switched from predominantly male to majority female in its undergraduate population, as well as three of its five professional programs.

The campus is one of many universities and colleges in the U.S. and other industrialized countries where women now outnumber men.

UC Davis’ 24,010 undergraduates are about 55 percent women to 45 percent men, just under the 56–44 national average. The U.S. Department of Education expects that gap to widen nationwide over the next five years to 57 percent female. UC Davis appears to be on track to meet that projection, with a freshman class split 57–43.

Women total about 57 percent of students in the School of Medicine, 55 percent in the School of Law and 80 percent of the School of Veterinary Medicine. (Enrollment in the MBA program is two-thirds male and in education programs, long dominated by women, 73 percent female. Women still trail men slightly among the more than 4,000 graduate students.)

The nationwide trend holds wide-ranging implications for the country — for the future of its workforce and economy as well as for marriages and families — and has many education leaders, sociologists and others asking the question: Where are the men?

“I think we should worry about it,” said Pamela Burnett, director of undergraduate admissions. “We’re in the business of education and how education can help us become better citizens, utilizing our democracy to create the best society we can. We need to have representation, full representation, across the board from all corners.”

The gender gap is even wider among students from low-income families and among underrepresented minorities — more than 60 percent of African American and Hispanic students at UC Davis are female.

Sociologists say women’s success in college hasn’t come at the expense of men’s — the number of men enrolling in college has risen, but at a slower pace than the number of women.

In the 1960s and ’70s many women either did not go to college or dropped out to get married. But with declining discrimination and a rising divorce rate, women have outpaced men in college graduation rates since 1982. In 2004, women received 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States, compared with 35 percent in 1960.

For most of UC Davis’ 100-year history, male students have held the majority. All 28 students who enrolled in classes when the University Farm School opened in January 1908 were men. The first women arrived from UC Berkeley in 1914.

It was in 1979 that women overtook men in undergraduate enrollment. Women held a slim majority until the mid-1990s, when their numbers began to rise even faster than men’s. Over the past decade, the ratio has hovered near 55–45 percent among undergraduates.

Once they graduate, women nationwide are increasingly putting their undergraduate degrees to work, though to varying degrees depending on the field, says Kimberlee Shauman, an associate professor of sociology.

Shauman has been analyzing choices of undergraduate majors and occupations of women and men nationwide who earned their degrees in 1985-93 and comparing with data for female and male college graduates from 1995-2003.

Increasingly, women who majored in biological sciences go to work in life sciences occupations, Shauman found. And women who studied business, management or law are now as likely as men to use their degrees in their careers.

Note: This release was condensed from an article from the winter 2009 issue of UC Davis Magazine. For more, see SeXX Shift.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science — and advanced degrees from five professional schools: Education, Law, Management, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine. The UC Davis School of Medicine and UC Davis Medical Center are located on the Sacramento campus near downtown.

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