Why the Boys are Missing: Using Social Capital to Explain Gender Differences in College Enrollment for Public High School Students


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

In 1960, over 60 % of bachelor degrees were awarded to men. However, the rate of women’s college completion has steadily risen and, by 2004, women received nearly 60 % of bachelor degrees. Drawing on the theoretical contributions of James Coleman, this paper examines the ability of social capital to explain observed differences in college enrollment. We use data from the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study to examine social capital and quantify the strength of its relationship to college enrollment. We establish that men are currently disadvantaged with respect to key social capital variables, consistent with other published studies. We use logistic regression modeling to show that, after controlling for relevant variables, social capital is indeed related to college enrollment, and we provide an estimate of the degree to which the gender difference in enrollment can be explained by differences in social capital. In particular, we show that social capital reduces the odds ratio of women enrolling in college compared to men from 1.63 to 1.41. We show also that when grade point average is added to social capital, the odds ratio reduces from 1.41 to 1.23, showing that a substantial amount, but not all, of the gender disparity in college enrollment can be explained by these factors. In our final model, we test whether gender significantly interacts with social capital on college enrollment, a finding that would be consistent with women receiving differential returns to social capital. We find that women do not receive differential returns to social capital in comparison with men.

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