Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Gender and the Stratification of Colleges

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Gender and the Stratification of Colleges

Article excerpt

It has been twenty-five years since the United States Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned discrimination in education based on sex (Chamberlain, 1988).(1) Since that time, women have made substantial progress in terms of access to higher education. Women now constitute the majority of associate and other two-year degree recipients, the majority of bachelor's degree recipients, about half of master's and professional degree recipients, and nearly 40% of doctoral degree recipients. In terms of sheer numbers of degrees, then, women have more than attained parity with men. On the other hand, women are segregated from men in the fields of study they pursue. Differences in this aspect of education narrowed during the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s but have stabilized since 1985. Female college graduates continue to trail their male counterparts in earnings (Jacobs, 1995, 1996a).

Another important aspect of gender differentiation in higher education is the distribution of women and men across institutions. Several studies have suggested that women are not equally represented at top-tier institutions (Hearn, 1990; Persell, Catsambis, & Cookson, 1992; Davies & Guppy, 1997). In this article I assess whether women have attained parity with men in terms of graduation from elite colleges. I draw on comprehensive data on degrees obtained from all institutions awarding bachelor's degrees. I examine gender differences in average school standing as well as graduation from elite schools. I also examine whether women have made progress relative to men since 1970 with respect to college ranking.

The Stratification of Colleges

As enrollment in college becomes more common, competition for status shifts to obtaining a degree from an elite school. College ranking is associated with later-life earnings. In other words, those obtaining their degrees at higher status institutions earn more on average than those obtaining their degrees at less prestigious schools. Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) review studies in this area and do not resolve the question of whether graduates of elite schools do better because of the effect of the schools or because of the greater selectivity of students. However, more recent studies, which often include careful controls, provide an accumulating body of evidence that college ranking does indeed affect subsequent student outcomes (Behrman, Rosenzweig, & Taubman, 1996; Kingston & Smart, 1990; James, Absalam, Conaty, & To, 1989).(2) Economists refer to these as "college quality" effects. Sociologists have suggested that, in addition to greater technical skills, these earnings effects may represent greater social skills or social networks, or they may simply reflect status certification effects (Ishida, Spilerman, & Su, 1997; Lee & Brinton, 1996; Useem & Karabel, 1990; Kingston & Lewis, 1990; Coleman, 1988; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). No matter what interpretation we may place on these findings, if women do not obtain their degrees at schools of equal stature to those of men, then they will not garner the same benefits from their college education as their male counterparts. As bachelor's degrees become more common, one would expect the distinctions among bachelor's degree recipients to become ever more salient. Indeed, some evidence suggests that in recent years the importance of college standing has increased (Daniel, Black, & Smith, 1997a, 1997b).

Gender Differences in College Standing

Hearn (1990) and Persell et al. (1992) report that women trailed men in access to elite schools, based on an analysis of data on 1980 high-school seniors. Hearn reports that 45% of students at top institutions were female, compared with 40% in moderately selective and 51% in non-selective colleges, based on his analysis of the High School and Beyond data. (Hearn defined elite schools as those with average SAT scores above 1,176 in 1980. …

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