The percent of males earning college degrees in the U.S. has now dropped to 43 percent. While women have traditionally dominated professions such as nursing and teaching, professors in veterinary and medical schools are now looking out at a sea of women students in their classrooms.
Engineering and math careers are still dominated by males, but women are making substantial inroads across all fields they do not yet dominate. Women’s share of doctorates in math has risen from 11 percent in 1966 to 30 percent in 2006. Women only earned 12 percent of biological and agricultural doctorates in 1966 but are crossing to a majority in these field-oriented degrees today. They are not forcing males out of the classroom. Women are taking empty seats as males fall by the wayside.
The newspapers-of-record in education—Education Week and Chronicle of Higher Education—are buzzing with debates. Several books blame recent American curricular reforms for this "boy problem.". Conservative radio talk shows condemn the "feminization of the classroom" although there is no evidence that classroom interactions today differ significantly from a century ago.
It is very unlikely that this drop in male academic performance is due to any particular educational reform for several reasons.
Males are dropping out of academics in all developed countries. When I lecture in China’s universities, except for the forestry schools, I see mostly women’s faces. My colleagues in Europe report the same growing preponderance of female students. Whatever is depressing boy’s school performance is cutting across cultural and political boundaries and widely disparate educational systems.
More evidence comes from the timing. Boys’ and girls’ academic performance began to diverge 15 years ago and has accelerated in the last decade. Boys, who traditionally were far better in mathematics, have declined to now be at parity with girls on national tests. This decline in boy’s scores coincides with the emergence of video-games.
Last year, Douglas Gentile published a survey of American 8-to-18 year-olds and found 12 percent of boys were video-game addicted, having at least six symptoms out of 11, similar to a scale for gambling addiction. Only three percent of girls were video-game addicts. Yet, this study was a correlation and not a proof that video-games caused the decline in academics. There was the possibility that boys who were not academic were attracted to video-games as a consequence. In science, we have a saying: correlation does not prove causation.
However, the proof that videogames-cause-a-decline-in-academics is now in hand, published in the February 2010 issue of Psychological Science.
Robert Weis and Brittany C. Cerankosky of Denison University measured a group of boys’ academic baseline achievement and surveyed their parents and teachers for the boys’ behavior. They then gave half of the group of boys playstation videogame units. Boys with video-games saw their academics nosedive. The control group of boys without videogames continued on with their solid schoolwork. This nailed the cause-and-effect relationship.
Nevertheless, educationists and computer enthusiasts are in denial, trying to find fault with the study or somehow deflect the damning evidence. In the same manner that computers are being ignored as a major cause of student obesity, educators are reluctant to admit that videogames are a major cause of the decline in male academic performance. It is called "gameboy" and not "gamegirl" for a reason—most girls are far less addicted to video-games than boys.
There are now more women in the American workforce than men, in part due to layoffs. But the academic decline in boys began 15 years before the recession. If we are going to stop this educational slide of males to a minor role in the professions, we are going to have to take the electronic toys out of the hands of our young boys.