This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the federal civil-rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any school or educational program funded by the federal government. It is widely regarded as a law to guarantee gender equity in sports, but Title IX makes no reference to athletics. It was not intended to spur the buildup of women’s sports programs. Its purpose was to ensure equality in education, as the original text signed into law by President Richard Nixon made clear:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Senator Birch Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, was Title IX’s chief sponsor. In his floor remarks upon introducing the legislation, he made clear that it was designed to promote equality:
“We are all familiar with the stereotype [that] women [are] pretty things who go to college to find a husband [and] go on to graduate school because they want a more interesting husband, and finally marry, have children, and never work again,” he said. “The desire of many schools not to waste a ‘man’s place’ on a woman stems from such stereotyped notions. But the facts contradict these myths about the ‘weaker sex’ and it is time to change our operating assumptions.” He called the amendment “an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs — an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice [and] to develop the skills they want.
There have been plenty of stories in recent weeks analyzing Title IX and its impact. Often as not, the analysts claim that the law hasn’t gone far enough. But I am struck by how little acknowledgment there is that the relative position of the sexes in higher education has been almost entirely reversed. If young women a half century ago lagged far behind their male peers on college campuses and in the post-college labor force, today the opposite is true.
In a recent post on his Carpe Diem blog for the American Enterprise Institute, economist Mark J. Perry turned to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from October 2021 to highlight the astonishing disparities between young men and women in the United States today.
He noted, for example, that for every 100 young women in 2021 who graduated from high school and entered college, there were just 89 similarly situated young men.
For every 100 young women under 25 who were enrolled in college and working, there were just 69 young men.
For every 100 young women with a bachelor’s degree, there were just 80 young men.
And for every 100 young women in their 20s with an advanced degree and a job, there were just 30 young men.
By contrast, for every 100 young women who were unemployed high school dropouts, there were 238 young men in the same position.
By numerous educational yardsticks, it is men, not women, who today lag far behind. In most academic fields — biology, communications, the arts, public administration, education, health care, psychology, English — women now earn a majority of bachelor’s degrees.
“It is young men, more than young women, who are at risk and facing serious educational and work-related challenges,” notes Perry. Those gender disparities carry over far beyond academics. Men are much more likely than women to end up with “a variety of measures of (a) behavioral and mental health outcomes, (b) alcoholism, drug addiction, and drug overdoses, (c) suicide, murder, violent crimes, and incarceration, and (d) homelessness.”
For all that, Perry writes, it is girls and women who are favored with “a disproportionate amount of attention, resources, and financial support” at all levels of education — such as after-school and summer programs for girls, female-only scholarships and fellowships, and hundreds of women’s centers and women’s commissions.
Title IX, it is worth remembering, did not mandate unequal preferences for women. It mandated no unequal preferences for any person on the basis of sex. In the 50 years since Title IX was signed into law, the imbalance that so disfavored girls and women has been replaced by an imbalance that grievously disfavors boys and men. That isn’t an improvement. Indeed, it’s illegal.
Jeff Jacoby is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. This column is excerpted from the current issue of Arguable, his weekly newsletter. To subscribe to Arguable, visit bitly.com/Arguable.