Is too much testosterone a bad thing? Most likely, says columnist Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece. In “Mistresses of the Universe,” Kristof muses that perhaps it is no coincidence that the male-dominated sphere of Wall Street has floundered lately. His basic argument is not that men are inherently to blame for the national financial mess or that Lehman Brothers would have faired better if it were Lehman Sisters. Rather, Kristof points to research from the Journal of Economic Theory that found that diverse groups perform better at problem solving than homogeneous ones. Along these lines, discussions among experts at the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland concluded “the optimal bank would have been Lehman Brothers and Sisters.”
Unlike Wall Street, where Kristof notes, “senior staff meetings resemble a urologist’s waiting room,” the gender disparities in higher education are reversed. In short, more women are now going to college than men. At the nation’s most selective schools, however, national trends do not necessarily apply. Just because great numbers of women may apply to top schools, does not mean more will be accepted. An overabundance of qualified young women and men apply to top schools every year, but admissions officers work toward enrolling freshman classes evenly split across gender lines.
For the raw numbers on the gender disparities in the admissions process at Wesleyan, I turned to Michael Whitcomb, the University’s Director of Institutional Research. He directed me to Wesleyan’s Common Data Set for 2008-2009, which showed that while Wesleyan enrolls approximately an equal number of men and women, it consequently rejects more prospective women students. A total of 3,384 men and 4,866 women applied to be a part of this year’s freshman class. In the end, only 355 freshmen men and 360 freshmen women came to campus last August. To arrive at such a balanced class, Wesleyan admissions officers accepted 30.44% of its male applicants and 24.97% of its female applicants.
Though young women may be statistically less likely to be accepted to Wesleyan than young men, the overall strength of the entering freshman class does not suffer. Males accepted to Wesleyan are just as qualified as accepted females. Moreover, I would argue that a 50/50 male to female ratio is something worth fighting for. American universities should strive for gender equality for the same reasons the financial industry should recruit more female investors: institutions are stronger when they are not polarized by gender.
While a complicated combination of societal influences lead to gender disparities on Wall Street and in the college classroom, the vast majority of evidence suggests men and women are in fact equally capable in both arenas. Therefore, under-representation of either gender represents a failure of society to provide equal opportunity and encouragement to its boys and girls. Working toward gender equality in the financial industry and higher education would not only benefit specific sectors of underrepresented men and women, but would improve society as a whole.
Ultimately, when gender proportions are skewed, everyone suffers. Well, maybe not everyone. A male friend of mine attending Sarah Lawrence College (male/female ratio: 26/74) has few complaints about the school’s powerful effects on his love life.