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The 40th anniversary of Title IX is coming up in June. There is cause to celebrate the advances in gender equity that Title IX has brought to intercollegiate athletics, but the words “athletics”, “sports,” and “athlete” are not even mentioned in the statute. The purpose of Title IX was to open classroom doors to women, and the fact that gymnasium doors opened as well is kind of incidental, especially today.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released a report on college enrollment and employment among 2011 high school graduates, and the numbers raise special concerns for young women. Men comprise a slight majority of those who dropped out of high school during the 2010-2011 school year, at 54 percent.  A little over half of these women and men were in the labor force, but the unemployment rate for the women was 53.1 percent, compared to only 27.5 percent for the men.

Among the roughly two-thirds of 2011 high school graduates who enrolled in college last fall, women were slightly more likely to participate in the labor force (41.0 percent compared to 36.5 percent of men), but were far less likely to be unemployed (15.2 percent compared to 27.9 percent of men in the labor force). 

For men, graduating from high school and enrolling in college makes virtually no difference in terms of landing a job. But for young women, finishing high school and starting higher education dramatically improves the odds of landing a job.

Similar patterns appear for the larger group ages 16 to 24 years. Among high school dropouts, women’s unemployment rate is 31.2 percent, compared to 19.7 percent for men. But the women’s rate drops below that for men as education levels rise. Ultimately, among young people with at least a Bachelor’s degree, women’s unemployment rate is 8 percent, well below the 9.5 percent rate for comparable young men. In other words, the odds of a young man being unemployed fall by about half as education levels rise, but the odds for young women fall by almost three-quarters.

There is nothing wrong with getting into and using a gym, but the value of getting into the college classroom has never been higher for young women.  Thanks to Title IX, the doors are open.


Robert Drago, Ph.D., is a labor economist and independent consultant.

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