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Gay men more likely to have college degrees, and this could be the reason why

A man posed with his college degree
Posed by model (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study says gay men are more likely to have academic degrees than straight men.

Joel Mittleman of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana is the man behind the research. It’s already known that a gender gap exists in universities. In the U.S., around 60% of degrees go to women and 40% to men. This made Mittleman curious to look at sexuality.

Nowadays, boys often underperform in schools compared to girls. This trend began in the 1960s with advances in women’s rights. For the first time, more young women began to experience encouragement to attend university.

Besides gay men enjoying a greater likelihood of earning a degree, lesbian and bi women were seeing a decline in their degree attainment.

“As a whole, my results reveal two core demographic facts,” says Mittleman. “First, ‘the rise of women’ should be understood more precisely as the rise of straight women. Second, ‘the problem with boys’ obscures one group with rather remarkable levels of academic success: gay boys.”

Working hard at school seen as “gay”

Mittleman explores the reasons why boys generally don’t shine in school. He points to evidence that some young men perceive working hard as “gay”. Other boys dismiss academic effort and “valorize school-related rebellion” instead.

Mittleman found that around 52% of gay men in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree, which is 16 percentage points higher than the national average. He also found that 6% of gay men have a higher degree, which is 50% higher than the national average.

This remained the case across White, Black, Hispanic and Asian racial groups.

Mittleman argues many queer kids feel unsafe at school, but proposes “gay boys’ well-documented victimization should … be understood alongside their remarkable academic resilience.”

He says gay boys can feel their masculinity and status threatened by several sources, including parents and peers. This can leave them feeling vulnerable, confused and hopeless.

However, “whereas the rules of masculinity may feel obscure or unattainable, the rules of school can feel discrete and manageable,” Mittleman says.

“Whereas the approval of a parent may be uncertain, the praise of a teacher can be regularly earned with the right amount of effort.

“And when other avenues for ‘being a man’ are cut off, pursuing the kinds of prestigious careers made possible through meticulously high achievement offers a way to shore up one’s standing as a man.”

In other words, we’re overcompensating to prove our worth. Or, while everything else goes wrong in our teenage years, at least we can try to get good grades.

Coincidentally, this chimes with a viral tweet last year in which gay people shared the things they did to avoid school recess. They preferred to hang out in safe spaces such as libraries and music rooms, or bond with trusted teachers rather than risk facing bullies

Related: Viral tweet reveals the things queer kids do to avoid school recess

With regards to women, Mittleman noted lesbians were more likely to have degrees than straight women. However, this tended to be White lesbians, and more clearly shown among older age groups.

Speculating as to why, Mittleman says that in previous decades, an expectation existed for women to give up education to marry and become moms. This meant more lesbians in the mid-20th century pursued academic studies.

However, that’s been changing in recent years. Mittleman points to evidence society rewards “feminine” girls, including in academic pursuits.

“Lesbian women’s academic achievement is suppressed by unequal treatment by school authorities. That is, I suspect that lesbians— especially those who enact ‘masculine’ styles of speech, dress and behavior—disproportionately face the kinds of ‘bad girl’ penalties identified by previous research.”

He points out that lesbian youth are substantially more likely to experience “exclusionary school discipline”. This is especially true for lesbians of color.

LGBTQ kids face tough times at school

Other studies have looked at the discrimination LGBTQ kids face at school, including rampant bullying. A Human Rights Watch study in 2016, entitled “Like Walking Through A Hailstorm” found “Almost all of the students interviewed for the report reported encountering verbal harassment in their school environment, even in the most LGBT-friendly schools.”

Although some are throwing themselves into their school work, “an alarming 42.8 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth respondents had seriously considered suicide in the previous year, and 29.4 percent had attempted suicide.” This compares to 14.8% and 6.4% of straight youth respectively.

Related: Queer guy gets revenge on school bully… by having sex with his dad