NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Men Are More Likely to Drop Out of College

February 26, 2013

Moderate levels of debt can actually help students graduate by allowing them to work less and study more. But beyond a certain point, the relationship breaks down -- wary of taking on too heavy a debt burden, students drop out. That dynamic exists for all students, but not equally, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • According to a new paper in the journal Gender & Society, men are more likely than women to leave school rather than take on more loans.
  • Women are more likely to finish their degrees, even if that means graduating with a higher debt burden.
  • The research suggests that student debt may help explain a significant but poorly understood trend in recent years: Women are not only enrolling in college at higher rates than men, they're also more likely to graduate.

That gender should affect student borrowing decisions might seem surprising, but the authors suggest there is a fairly simple explanation: Men without college degrees face better job prospects than equivalently educated women, at least in the short term. That makes the consequences of dropping out appear smaller for men.

The paper used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to look at the educational and employment experiences of more than 6,500 Americans born between 1980 and 1984. Unsurprisingly, going to college boosted earnings for both men and women. But the gap was much wider for women.

  • After controlling for various demographic factors, the researchers found that female graduates earned more than $6,500 more per year than women with just a high school diploma, and more than $4,500 more than women who dropped out of college.
  • Male graduates, by contrast, earned only about $2,700 more than high school graduates and about the same amount as male college drop-outs.

The disparity in career prospects apparently affects students' decisions when it comes to taking on debt.

  • For male students in the study, debt levels above about $12,500 made them less likely to graduate.
  • For women, the breaking point was closer to $15,000.

Source: Ben Casselman, "Why Men Are More Likely to Drop Out," Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2013. Rachel Dwyer, Randy Hodson and Laura McCloud, "University Gender, Debt, and Dropping Out of College," Gender & Society, February 2013.


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