As part of a series called "The New Gender Divide," the New York Times took a much-needed and in-depth look yesterday at what's happening with young men and women in higher education. The article, "Boys Who Coast" (currently the most-e-mailed article on NYTimes.com), offered some fascinating anecdotal evidence to back up studies that show that men in college study less and socialize more than their female counterparts. Women at private and public universities told reporter Tamar Lewin that they are more ambitious, conscientious and interested in their professional futures than their male classmates. Jen Smyers, who has held three jobs and four internships in her three years at American University, said simply, "The women here are on fire."
The boys don't disagree. In fact, they seem perfectly aware of -- and not terribly concerned by -- the fact that they are often, well, slackers. "What's the difference between an A and a B?" said Rick Kohn, a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "Either way, you go on to the next class."
What can this shruggy, who-cares attitude be attributed to? Interestingly, almost all the students Lewin interviewed told her they thought the differences in drive among young women and men had something to do with ... the women's movement. "The roles have changed a lot," Travis Rothway, a junior at American, told Lewin. "Men have always been the dominant figure, providing for the household, but now women have broken out of their domestic roles in society. I don't think guys' willingness to work and succeed has changed, it's more that the women have stepped up."
Smyers, for one, thinks men slack off simply because they can. "The men don't seem to hustle as much," she said. "I think it's a male entitlement thing. They think they can sit back and relax and when they graduate, they'll still get a good job. They seem to think that if they have a firm handshake and speak properly, they'll be fine." (She's pretty much right. As the Times notes, men have always done better in pay and promotions because they tend to work longer hours, and have "fewer career interruptions than women who bear children and most of the responsibility for raising them.")
Other interesting issues Lewin touches on in her exhaustive article: why the gender gap is especially wide among low-income whites and Hispanics; why boys are "technology-savvy but interpersonally challenged"; whether colleges should employ affirmative action-type admission policies to combat declining male enrollment (a topic that Salon's Sarah Karnasiewicz has also explored); the fact that some young men flounder in college because they have "laundry problems" and don't know how "to wake up on time without a mom," as Greg Williams, a sophomore at Dickinson College, lamented.
The so-called boy crisis in education is a topic that the media (Broadsheet included), parents, feminists and conservatives can't get enough of. As always, we'd love to hear what you think.