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
most of the bullies were/are idiots and not in honors classes- part of the reason I took them.
“Best Little Boy In The World” syndrome.
A good deal of us also need to invest in our future in order to escape gay-unfriendly environments.
It also has to do with the fact that as a gay man, I did not have to bother myself with the prospect of having a wife and children. I grew up in the eighties. Same sex marriage was way over in another galaxy. Since I did not care for having a family, I dedicated all my efforts and time into having a career instead. Finishing a bachelor and later a Master. Now, I am the only one in my family with a degree and my siblings are rather struggling in their later years. I am successful in my field. Go Gay Boys!!
Certainly true in my case. As an only child and Son I felt so guilty about not carrying on the family name I decided to ‘make up’ for being gay by academic excellence. After getting my B.Sc. ( HONS ) and PhD in Science I came out to my Parents. They said they accepted me because they loved me no problem. So I came out with total acceptence and a great education. Even in liberal London of the 80s, in an All Boys School coming out was not an option !
Interesting article, except last time I looked, the University of Notre Dame was in South Bend, Indiana, not Indianapolis.
Yeah, I wondered if they opened a branch campus (like IUPUI).
The location of Notre Dame (at least the state it is in) has been corrected in the most recent version of the article.
I’d like to offer a small correction to the article. You forgot to capitalize “white” in a list of multiple ethnicities. In a list all the words should be uniform- upper or lowercase.
Probably has nothing to do with the fact that a LOT of Queer kids need to do whatever they can to get away from their hometowns and homophobic relatives and college is a way to do that.
Logged on to make the same point, but I see you already did!
Here’s correction #3: The sentence that reads, “It’s already know a gender gap exists…” Start the sentence with “We” and it makes sense.
Or change “know” to “known”, as in “It’s already known that a gender gap exists.” And I see, going back to the article to look at it right now, that this is exactly the correct that has been made.
Hmm…no gay/bi man I’ve ever dated Or been friends with, with one exception, has graduated from college. Might be my geographic area, but college isn’t a priority here yet we have three right in or near our downtown area
A college degree is the key to independence. The way to get away from your homophobic family and neighborhood is to go to college, which is already a better environment, and then get a job. When your dad tells you that you cannot be gay, you tell him that you have a job, a house, and a degree, so he cannot tell you what to do.
If you are financially independent, you can live your life as you see fit, not how your family wants you to live it.
University was my ticket out of Dodge and the confines of the world I grew up in.
“This trend began in the 1960s with advances in women’s rights.”
This theory is greatly undermined by the fact the advances in women’s rights happened mostly in the 1970s. Title IX was passed in 1972, Roe v. Wade is in 1973. Most state’s equalized their divorce laws during the 1970s. While the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed in the 1960s, the equal pay act was not actively enforced and there is still a significant pay gap between the sexes. However, the changes in the 1970s allowed married women to work without the permission of they husbands, to control their own property, and demand access to the family’s bank accounts.
MacAdvisor, Thank you for always adding a bit of knowledgeable unbiased background to the story.
Thank you, Openminded, that is, I think, the highest and best compliment I’ve ever received. I truly appreciate your kind words.
While the legal and cultural fruits of second wave feminism were seen in the early 70’s. it is important to note that the intellectual basis for it (the activists, the writing, the protests, and so on, as well as its internalization by young women and girls) was in the 1960’s concurrent with the anti-war and civil rights movements. Most of the young women I hung out with in high school and and college (I was class of ’72) already saw their options as broader than the generation before them.
The sentence in question should perhaps refer to women’s consciousness and goals rather than the later advances in rights that those goals and consciousness created.
I’m wondering how much of it was also related to the aftermath of WWII, though there is a bit of a time gap. During the war, women went to work in higher paying professions while the men were at war, and then many of them were relegated back to being housewives after the men returned. Jobs such as those in factories treated the women working in them during the war effort as sort of temps, just filling in until the men returned. Young girls who saw their mothers work independently at that time, only to then see them lose those jobs after the war, might have grown up with a desire for greater attainment and independence and therefore might have seen academic achievement as a way to do that. Or growing out of the success and growth of the (white) middle class after the war in the 1950s, maybe there was more financial ability for girls/women to go to college than in the past, in addition to a greater desire for learning. Maybe it was the greater academic achievement by women in the 1960s that helped to bolster the success of the second wave feminist gains of the 1970s. Sadly, there is still too much gender-based inequality even now as every advance seems to be followed by a right wing backlash (which we also see in LGBT advances in equality).
@MacAdvisor: The gender pay gap is not real. If a man and woman are hired for the same job (Starbucks) they will absolutely get the same pay. Women in general make about 80% of a man’s general income due to a number of factors and those include ambitions, maternity, prioritizing children over career, prioritizing personal time over working, etc. There is nothing wrong with women making these choices but it does affect how much they get paid and their career trajectory.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to college because I was busy working and helping my family to survive. I started cooking at the age of 16 and spent 35 years in the restaurant industry moving up the ladder. Finally peaked out and left the industry and got a job working for the county. Spent 15 years with the county and retired with both SS and county retirement. Enjoy my life now traveling.
I’m always wary of convenient and tidy narratives like this to explain complex socioeconomic behaviors, especially when class and family wealth are a gigantic determining factor in whether or not someone is able to pursue education at all, let lone higher education and advanced degrees.
Having said that, I grew up in the 1990s and thought that going to college would be my ticket to exploring a life of freedom away from my family’s religiousity and finally be able to date men and find people who would love me regardless of my “sexual preferences,” (“orientation” didn’t catch on until I was an adult).
When I was in Junior high school some of the biggest bullies were teachers. My 7th grade math teacher used to hit me on the head with rolled up newspapers and magazines. My PE teacher told me I caught like a girl. It was hell.
I could see some survey bias here. College educated gay men as more secure in telling a researcher they are gay than working class gay men, thereby inflating the number of college educated gay men.
Most of my gay male friends were academically talented in high school. At Stanford most of my gay male friends did well in college. Several of us graduated from select schools. I think it’s the gay gene.
Gay men on average make 10% more in wages that their straight counterparts probably because of education.
As others have noted, academic achievement offers a way to go off to college – a welcome change of environment for many a gay person. Importantly, I think it should be noted that gay people are generally more intelligent, at least as measured by standardized tests.
Who comes up with these BUPKUS ( Yiddish for worthless or nothing) studies? Really people go for degrees for various reasons no matter who they sleep with. Maybe gay men get more degrees because they don’t go out for sports and instead devote their time to their studies or they find something they’re passionate about and get degrees. And maybe they kind of know beforehand that they will be minimalized and know they’ll have to work twice as hard than their straight counterparts and that ‘sheepskin’ will prove they’re just as smart as anyone else and in many cases much better!
This. Plus, we are just so much smarter than the typical straight male.
Except your comment did nothing to disprove the study.
The study simply stated that a higher percentage of gays finished college, you then attacked the study and went on to say “Maybe the reason for that is…….”.
The study didn’t say anything about the reasons, just that the number was higher, which you accepted. Even when you aren’t defending bigots you still seem set to troll anything that isn’t an attack on LGBTQ people.
So, as is typical for a right winger, you think your beliefs and assumptions carry more weight than statistics? There is no way, outside of regressive delusion, that “maybe” or “perhaps” has anywhere near the reality of survey results.
Analyze the methodology or cite contradictory study results, but remember that your imagination is never empirical examination no matter how much you wish it were.
And, by the way, it’s bubkes, bupkes or bupkis (or most authentically bobkes if one transliterates directly from ???????…boybkes if you’re Galitzianer).
Ugh! The comment board is unable to display Hebrew characters, so it just came up as a bunch of question marks.
@Winemaker: Agreed. The person conducting the “study” made too many assumptions based on nothing. I’d also like to see what degrees each group get. A degree in something like gender studies is basically useless so a degree means nothing.
The study this article is about is 99 pages long with statistics and citations. It trumps your obvious OPINION about it (an opinion based on other opinions, so exponentially worthless!) by a longshot. Please do yourself a favor and learn the difference between empirical examination and the products of your imagination.
Also, given the clearly dynamic gender roles in 21st century society, and the public policy that flows from that, what EXACTLY makes gender studies, an accepted sub-discipline of anthropology and sociology, “worthless”. Remember, the worth of something to society in general is not in any way tied to your individual prejudices regarding it.
One thing that I’m seeing from the article’s discussion of this study is that gender norms seem to be at play here, specifically femininity versus masculinity. More academic success for gay men and feminine straight women versus less academic success for presumably masculine straight men and masculine lesbian women. The context of the article appears to suggest that it is perceptions of masculinity and femininity that impact academic success or lack thereof.
Of course, it could also be related to socioeconomic class (with a racial disparity as well), economic opportunities, a difference in the perception of education as a way out, or many other factors as well. But gender norms do seem to be part of the differential numbers of gay men versus lesbian & bi women achieving academically (with no mention of bi men at all, apparently).
I feel like the last two paragraphs tell the real story we face. How most of us are in survivor mood most of our lives and how that affected our academics. Also I wonder if they considered environmental factors, like family financial and dynamic.
When I was in college I was very DEEP in the closet and so in my own head. I finally came out of it during senior year but it didn’t help my academic performance – quite the opposite. When I ceased torturing myself and finally took a look around, I began to notice things everyone else had witnessed A LONG time ago. Had I come out earlier I would have realized I was in VERY good company. My gaydar was telling me this all the time but I was deep in denial. Should have gone with the flow!!
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