Gender and education: Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do?

But that doesn’t explain gender differences at very young ages.

But what are the likely consequences? The most obvious is the effect on the job market. 

In SA, graduates have a much lower unemployment rate (5%) compared to those without any tertiary qualification (33%). If more women have degrees, women are likely to have significant lower unemployment rates than men. 

And because the best students in almost all subject fields are now women, they are likely to find the best jobs, and move up the job ladder quicker.

We know that men have historically held the majority of high-ranking positions in the workplace, and this outcome can do a lot to balance things out. 

But people also prefer to match on education, meaning that they prefer partners with a similar level of education. What does the gender-unbalanced pool of graduates mean for finding your soulmate? 

If women become the main (or only) breadwinners, how will that affect family planning? 

Women already face a more difficult trade-off than men between having to balance a family and career. Will fertility rates fall further, especially for those at the upper end of the income distribution where the gender gap is most pronounced? 

And what of the men? Will they be happy to take up more family responsibilities? In a world that increasingly rewards human capital, a large pool of unskilled men will find no outlet for their only productive resource: manual labour. 

If these men, without proper interventions, become more indolent and isolated, what are the likely political and social consequences? 

It’s not surprising that the political extremes are often dominated by men. Men already outnumber women in all major crime categories. 

If unchecked, violence and conflict, at the household, community and international level, will in all likelihood increase. 

What can be done about this? Those who argue that the cause for the gender gap is the sudden increase in rewards for non-cognitive abilities would argue that the schooling system can do more to nurture these traits in men. 

Others would argue that the technological changes that make men less productive – like video games – should be taxed.

Others will say that it is pointless to intervene – why should we care about men when women have been oppressed for centuries, and many remain the victims of abuse and dominance? 

I would argue that that is exactly why we should care about the rising gender gap in education: if we don’t, the consequences are likely to be dire, for men and women.

Johan Fourie is associate professor in economics at Stellenbosch University.

This article originally appeared in the 15 February edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

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