Academic journal article Thymos

Boys Left Behind: Gender Role Changes in Alaska

Academic journal article Thymos

Boys Left Behind: Gender Role Changes in Alaska

Article excerpt

The gender gap in college enrollment and completion has become a concern in many nations. The phenomenon is extreme in Alaska, particularly among indigenous people. Semi-structured interviews with 162 urban and indigenous students graduating from high school, and in addition, two single-gender focus groups, suggest that many young men do not see a college education as necessary to financial success and do not expect to assume the gender role of sole family provider. Young women tend to see a college degree as essential to changed gender roles where women are expected to attend college, pursue a career, and not be dependent on a man for financial support. Many young men withdraw from the demands of a verbally-saturated high school curriculum, which they find unenjoyable. Both young men and young women tend to label male withdrawal from school as "male laziness," an essentialist interpretation rather than an interpretation based on the school environment and changing gender roles.

Keywords: gender gap, Alaska Natives, Alaska, college participation, college success

They [boys] just don't know that going to college makes you - better! It makes you smarter, makes you get a better job. ... I don't know what goes through guys' heads. (Female high school senior)

The increasing gap between boys and girls in school performance, college attendance, and college completion has become a problem in many nations of the world, particularly those with post-industrial economies, such as the United States, Canada, and countries in Western Europe (Hepburn & Simon, 2006). This phenomenon is extreme in Alaska, which ranks second in the United States in the size of the gender gap in college completion (Sum, Fogg, & Harrington, 2003). Among Alaska Natives, the major minority group in Alaska, three Native women graduate from college for every one Native man, the largest gender gap of any minority group in the United States (Kleinfeld & Andrews, 2005).

Alaska thus offers a particularly fruitful site to study the bases of the gender gap. Where a phenomenon is most extreme, the causes are more apt to stand out. In this study of the gender gap among Alaska youth, we sought to answer the following questions:

1. Why are fewer adolescent boys in Alaska, particularly Alaska Natives, choosing to attend college?

2. What are the bases for the postsecondary decisions among these adolescent boys and girls?

3. What are the implications for K-12 schools in increasing the achievement of boys in school and in increasing college attendance?

Literature Review

A growing research literature documents the gender gap between boys and girls in school achievement and college attendance (Evelyn, 2005; Gerald & Hussar, 2003; Gurian & Stevens, 2005; Sax, 2005; Younger & Warrington, 2005). Young men with low levels of education earn less, are less likely to vote and engage in civic activity, and are particularly vulnerable to unemployment in periods of economic decline (Sum, Fogg, & Harrington, 2003). What is unclear is what is driving this change and why the gender gap is so extreme among minority groups. The Alaska experience suggests that the major explanation lies in changes in male and female roles and gendered differences in strategies for coping with socioeconomic change.

In Alaska, as elsewhere in postindustrial economies, profound changes have occurred in economic opportunities and in gender roles. More and more employment requires symbolic and information processing skills, rather than physical strength. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for the family, and women are no longer expected to confine their activities to the family arena. With women assuming greater economic responsibility, men from many cultural groups no longer appear to have clear ideas of what is expected of them as adult males. This is particularly true among Alaska Natives, where the male provider role was vital to the survival of the community. …

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