An Analysis of the Gender Gap in High School and College Graduation Rates Across the United States

A new study by scholars at the Brookings Institution examines how the gender gap in educational outcomes vary across the United States. In every U.S. state, young women are more likely than their male counterparts to have a bachelor’s degree. The education gender gap emerges well before college. Girls are more likely to graduate high school on time and perform substantially better on standardized reading tests than boys and nearly as well as boys in math.

In 1970, just 12 percent of young women (ages 25 to 34) had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20 percent of men — a gap of eight percentage points. By 2020, that number had risen to 41 percent for women but only to 32 percent for men — a nine percentage–point gap, now going the other way. That means there are currently 1.6 million more young women with a bachelor’s degree than men.

There are wide disparities in degree attainment for women in particular states. In Massachusetts, 58 percent of young women hold a bachelor’s degree. In Mississippi, only 28 percent of women in the 25-to-34 age group have a four-year degree.

In Utah, the gender gap in degree attainment is only four percentage points in favor of women. In North Dakota, the gender gap in favor of women is 14 percentage points. This is the largest gap in the nation.

For states that calculate on-time high school graduations, women have a higher percentage than men in every state. The lowest on-time graduation rate is 72 percent for men and 80 percent for women in Arizona. In West Virginia, New Jersey, and Florida, 93 percent of women graduate from high school on time, the highest rates in the nation. Vermont has the lowest gender gap with women graduating at a rate only 2 percentage points higher than men.

The authors conclude that “understanding the dynamics of the gender gaps in education, especially for less advantaged boys and men, is essential to informing policy solutions. The variation in disparities between different cities and states may well offer useful lessons.”

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study

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