During the last two decades, study abroad programs across the country have asked the same thing: “Where have all the men gone?”
A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed findings that have been suspected by many universities for years: The number of women who study abroad far outnumber that of men.
According to the article, in the 2009-2010 academic year, women accounted for nearly two-thirds of 270,600 American students going overseas. In fact, the proportion of men studying overseas has not increased for more than two decades.
Rebecca Griffin is the coordinator for international student admissions in the Office of International Programs. She said this disproportion of genders is something that most everyone in the study abroad field is aware of demographically.
“I’ve definitely noticed it on a personal level as well,” Griffin said. “When I was a student, I went on trips to England, Prague and East Asia, and on all of those trips the students were almost overwhelmingly female.”
According to Griffin, in 2010-2011, out of 161 faculty-led trips that went abroad, 37 students were male. For the 2011-12 academic year, 23 of 141 students who studied abroad were male.
“One of my goals is to develop a tracking system,” Griffin said. “I want to sit down and discover numerically where our own program falls on this issue.”
James Sullivan, professor of English, is taking his third faculty-led group of students to Rome this spring, and this imbalance between genders is a phenomenon he has seen on all three occasions.
“Language studies have shown us through focus groups that women typically support each other much more than men do,” Sullivan said. “Men are less likely to be supportive and are much more individualistic, which could have something to do with why you see women studying abroad much more than men.”
After examining a series of focus study groups, The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that male students were far more reluctant to leave their campus social groups to go overseas.
A University of Iowa study of some 2,800 students found that the more men interacted with their peers and became involved and influenced by social groups in their respective geographic areas, the less likely they were to sign up for a study abroad program.
Sullivan said women are typically more likely to specialize in careers where language is a major focus. This could have something to do with the fact that girls develop significant language acquisition much earlier than boys.
However, research has also suggested that the reason why so many women study abroad is because most study abroad programs focus on courses in the liberal arts, which women predominantly major in.
“It’d be interesting to see what we could do incentive-wise to get more males to participate in study abroad trips without being biased,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to relate to that demographic by networking through specific majors that appeal to the male population, like engineering and the computer sciences.”
Elementary education alumni Joshua Guerrero said he agreed that the phenomenon is likely related to which majors are being represented in faculty-led trips.
“I think it makes sense that you’d see more males studying abroad if you made more trips centered on careers like engineering and the technical studies,” Guerrero said. “Of course, there are always going to be other guys who want to finish up their general education classes.”
Last spring, Guerrero went on a faculty-led study abroad to Japan for sociology with Elson Boles. Gender-wise, he said that his group was divided pretty proportionately.
“Our group was split pretty much down the middle between men and women,” Guerrero said. “I guess that goes to show you that nothing is absolute when it comes to study abroad. I do wish that more guys would realize how great of an opportunity it is though.”