Story at a glance
- The nation’s gender gap in higher education is now the widest it has ever been, with two women likely to soon earn college degrees for every one man.
- But gay men, who tend to excel in the classroom, could hold the key to closing the gender gap, University of Notre Dame sociologist Joel Mittleman argues.
- According to Mittleman’s research, roughly 52 percent of gay men age 25 or older in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree — far outpacing the national average of 36 percent.
As the gender gap in American higher education widens to the largest it has ever been, gay men could hold the key to closing it, new research has found.
Roughly 52 percent of gay men age 25 or older in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree, according to new research published in the American Sociological Review, far higher than the national average of 36 percent.
The U.S. ranks ninth in the world in college completion, but “if America’s gay men … formed their own country, it would be the world’s most highly educated by far,” Joel Mittleman, a University of Notre Dame sociologist and the study’s author, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Gay men are also “significantly overrepresented” among advanced degree holders in the U.S., Mittleman wrote, and, compared with straight men, are about 50 percent more likely to have earned an MD, JD or PhD.
Importantly, Mittleman notes that his findings are not limited to white gay men, and gay men consistently outpace straight men in college completion regardless of racial or ethnic background.
His findings aren’t limited to higher education either, and gay male high school students are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to earn better grades in more advanced classes and maintain better study habits. They also reported having more “academically oriented” friends, Mittleman found, using data from a Department of Education study assessing student sexual orientation.
It’s likely that the success of gay boys and men in the classroom is tied to the fact that they often feel like “outsiders to the culture of masculinity enforced by their straight peers,” according to Mittleman, which ultimately leads them to be more conscientious students – something straight men are often taught not to be.
Using data from roughly 7,000 student surveys, Mittleman found that while many straight boys valued time spent playing video games or sports, gay boys reported putting a premium on academic success.
As adults, gay men also outperform women, likely because they often work exceedingly hard to compensate for not meeting masculine expectations, according to Mittleman. That work can “lead to a measurable boost,” he wrote.
Mittleman in his research also found that gay women tend to perform more poorly in school, and Black gay women have a much lower college graduation rate than white gay women.
That’s consistent with recent research from the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which found that women and girls who do not identify as heterosexual are more likely to face discrimination and isolation that can limit their education and earning potential.
Still, women overall tend to outperform men in academics, and at the current rate of progress, two women will soon earn college degrees for every one man, according to a Wall Street Journal report published last year.
In his op-ed, Mittleman argues that “it is long past time to rewrite the rules of American masculinity,” and, as the U.S. struggles to close its gender gap, there are valuable lessons to be learned from gay men.
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