Why do more females study abroad than males?
Studying abroad in South Africa through the University of Wisconsin-Madison allowed me to personally experience that there were significantly more females than males studying abroad. I could not help but wonder, why was the gender gap so wide in South Africa’s study abroad program? I assumed that it was just my year and the program I chose to go on, however, after asking various friends about their study abroad experiences, everyone had a striking similarity- there were always more females than males within each study abroad program.
The wide gender gap between males and females studying abroad has been reported by the Institute of International Education from 2003 to 2013. The report indicates that females make up nearly two-thirds of study abroad students each year.
Many students who study abroad are aware of the gender gap within their program and they believe that the issue only resides in that specific program, during that specific year. However, this is not the case. Each year, in most study abroad programs, there are significantly more females than males studying abroad. So, why is the gender gap within study abroad programs so wide?
Universities across the world have been participating in study abroad programs for years. Studying abroad builds character, creates career opportunities, allows students to take part in a new culture and gain life experience. These sound like improvements that every student would want, which creates curiosity surrounding the large difference between the amount of females who study abroad versus the males. Data from study abroad programs all over the world have one trend in common: more female students consistently study abroad than male students year after year. It is important to get to the root of the issue in order to decipher why more females study abroad because the lack of males could represent a larger issue. It could be possible that males are being neglected within the study abroad application process or that these programs are uninteresting to them.
The gender gap has been consistent overtime, even as the overall participation within study abroad programs increase. There is not one single reason widening the gender gap, but various factors that have led to these findings, which reflect the differences in enrollment, field of study and overall preferences regarding the study abroad process.
This story begins at the enrollment statistics. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, 1,025,729 females received their Bachelor’s degree in 2011/12 while 765,317 males received their Bachelor’s degree (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). This gap only widens as students begin their study abroad programs. With a higher enrollment of females comes a higher number of Bachelor’s degrees attained by females. Even though each major typically has more females studying within it, there are a few majors that have close to equal numbers or a significantly greater number of males. The top five majors that have students studying abroad are Business and Management, Social Sciences, Physical or Life Sciences, Foreign Language and International Studies, and Fine or Applied Arts (Institute of International Education, 2015). Most of these majors are relatively equal regarding gender, opposed to something like Health Professions which has 100,000 more females than males. While these top fields of study tend to have an equal gender distribution, Foreign Language and Education have a large disproportion between genders and that is one of the reasons the data reflects more females studying abroad than males. However, it is interesting to see that the top four fields have almost equal numbers regarding studying abroad.
If most of the numbers within the data regarding majors seem relatively equal to the top majors studying abroad, then why is there a significantly greater number of females studying abroad than males? While the number of Bachelor’s degrees obtained by females is higher, so is their interest to study abroad. Majors like Engineering have a much higher rate of male participation but the females, once again, typically have a larger percentage of study abroad participation compared to the males who dominate the Engineering field (Redden, 2008). According to the Institute of Education Sciences 2011/12 report, the Engineering field had 81,270 males and 17,270 females receive degrees (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). With numbers like this, it would be assumed that more males study abroad than females in the Engineering field. However, due to a lack of interest, the ratio is flipped. While there is no statistical data revealing this trend, Elizabeth Redden’s “Women Abroad and Men at Home,” discusses how the interest rates in females are consistently higher than males.
Studies regarding students’ interest to study abroad have concluded that there is a “differing maturity and risk-taking levels among 18- to 21-year-old men and women; a sense that females, concerned about safety, are more inclined to attend a college-sanctioned study abroad program than travel on their own” (Redden, 2008). The male dominated Engineering field only has 4.6 percent of students studying abroad. This data acts as an explanation for why male-dominated majors lack a higher percentage of study abroad students. It is clear that there are various factors that affect the gender gap of study abroad students, which is why it is so important to analyze each subject. Universities want as many students as possible to study abroad because it enhances students’ education and life experience. When universities push the programs it is with a major-specific mindset that is deemed as unappealing by many males because many males believe there is no time in their major or their future career choice is not relevant to studying abroad. It is difficult to create data based on interest when a lack of studies on the topic exist, but this analysis does represent the overall trend regarding interest.
Universities all over the United States encourage studying abroad because of the positive experience students tend to have and the growth in maturity they gain spending four months in a new place with a different culture. A main reason why students are encouraged to study abroad is because it helps with the next stage in life: a career path. “You stand out when looking for a job or applying to graduate school, when you’re thinking of that next opportunity. It is ‘beyond a resume’ ” (College Tourist, 2016). This does factor into why the number of study abroad students are constantly increasing- it makes the student much more valuable in the employment process post graduation. However, there are males who feel as though studying abroad does not pertain to their career choice.
University of Wisconsin-Madison’s International Studies division interviewed male students to see why they chose to opt out of the study abroad experience. Matt Huppert, a junior at UW-Madison majoring in Chemistry says, “moving and change” have prevented him from going overseas. He continued with, “I have no reason to study abroad. The jobs I’m looking for don’t have to be international. I can find jobs easier nationally than maybe [other majors]” (Division of International Studies, 2014). This attitude is common for many male college students. There is a lack of acceptance to the potential studying abroad has for their futures. According to these sets of students, the problem with studying abroad is that it is viewed to be a waste of time. It may not be correlated with their planned professions or they assume the credits cannot be completed in a different country.
The Washington Post found that “many male students are surprised to know they could complete an internship with a Fortune 500 company in Kenya, study global governance and economic development, or spend a semester in one of the few cities with permanent headquarters for the United Nations” (Strauss, 2015). Many programs do not advertise these types of opportunities because they focus solely on the studying aspect, not necessarily the preparations it can help with when thinking about possible professional careers, which is what males seem to be more interested in. “When these opportunities speak directly to career goals and on-campus interests, men seem to respond in greater numbers” (Strauss, 2015). This can help boast the interest rates of males and help lead towards the elimination of the very prevalent gender gap.
It is easy to look at the information thus far and decide that males are uninterested in studying abroad, however, that is just one small segment of the larger issue. Yes, females tend to have a higher interest but that does not mean males are completely uninterested. As stated prior, males may want to travel on their own because they do not want the restriction of a study abroad program. The base of the issue is numbers. The gender gap begins with enrollment numbers and then escalates into factors like field of study and overall interest in studying abroad. People should not look at this data and conclude, “Men do not want to study abroad,” because that is a large assumption that cannot be supported in every situation. It is important to take a step back from the conclusion that more females study abroad than males and decipher the question, “Who is studying abroad?” These insights give much more information as to why the gender gap exists within study abroad programs.
Many American universities are adamant about sending their students abroad. New York University- one of the top institutions for sending students abroad- sends over 4,000 students abroad each year. Other popular universities are University of Texas, University of Southern California, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin-Madison and they all send well over 2,000 students abroad each year (Institute of International Education, 2015). The list of American public institutions participating in study abroad programs is long because studying abroad enhances the skills of the students and gives them a very full education. The top 25 universities that send the most students abroad range from around the country. The high volume of students that participate in various study abroad programs is relevant because it shows the strong backing to encourage students to go abroad.
Many smaller universities that lack study abroad programs allow their students to go through study abroad programs at different universities. At an institution like New York University, students are well informed about the study abroad programs offered. There is a website informing students about the different countries that the they can attend, which includes facts, images and testimonials of previous student experiences (New York University Study Abroad). Various universities have entire divisions devoted to studying abroad, so the information is very in depth and promotes a convenient study abroad experience, which tends to lure many students in. No one is left uninformed, and as time goes on, the study abroad divisions become more in depth, causing more students to want to participate. Because New York University has one of the largest study abroad programs, it is affiliated with an immense amount of international universities. Smaller American universities do not have the same power so many students at the smaller universities have the opportunity to apply to study abroad through a school like New York University. This process ensures that everyone has the chance to study abroad, not just the students at an established affiliate school.
While the establishment of a strong study abroad program has lead to an increased number of students who participate, the appeal from international destinations has also been a contributing factor. According to a 2013 study regarding top study abroad destinations, the United Kingdom had 38,250 international students attend university there. Other popular countries include Spain, France, China, Australia, etc. (Institute of International Education, 2015). These host countries have become much more feasible with each year. While the United States is one of the largest countries that students study abroad in, there is also a large amount of students who leave to go study elsewhere due to the amenities within American institutions.
The partnership between American universities and International universities is strong and that is directly correlated with the increasing number in study abroad institutions. However, it has also widened the gender gap because more females are present throughout the universities and therefore, the programs. There are not gender-specified targeted programs but there are programs that target particular majors that may be heavily filled with females. For instance, the Foreign Language department encourages students to study in countries of the language they are practicing within school. If a student is a Spanish major, they are encouraged to study abroad in Spain to become fluent with the language and enhance their skills. Becoming affiliated with the culture and language is the ultimate learning environment and goes beyond the limitations that some universities have. The only issue is that majors that thoroughly promote studying abroad, tend to be majors that have a higher amount of females. According to a 2011/12 study of Bachelor’s degrees earned, Foreign language only had 6,630 males and 15,134 females (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). This is relevant because majors that are heavily female-based are targeted by study abroad programs, which causes the gender gap to widen.
It is clear that a significantly greater number of females study abroad than males every year. The trend has been consistent, with little indication that it will change in the future. However, redirecting males’ interests and encouraging various fields of study could help make the gap smaller. The main issue is the enrollment numbers. With more females receiving a Bachelor’s degree, a higher rate of females in the majors that typically study abroad and a higher rate of interest in females, the initial gap widens as students study abroad. It is common for people to assume that men do not want to study abroad. These people do not take the time to look at the enrollment numbers or dig deeper into why males’ interests do not reside within study abroad programs.
After reviewing the various issues in regards to the study abroad gender gap, it is clear that universities must begin to eliminate the wide gender gap before males who study abroad become an even smaller statistic. The wide gender gap has surfaced due to a lack of male interest, a higher number of females in majors that typically study abroad and overall, the higher female enrollment rate in universities.
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Redden, Elizabeth. “Women Abroad and Men at Home.” Inside Higher Ed. 4 Dec. 2008. Web. 02 May 2016. <https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/12/04/genderabroad>.
Strauss, Valerie. “Why Do More U.S. Women Study Abroad than Men?” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 May 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/09/why-do-more-u-s-women-study-abroad-than-men/>.