Why Are So Few Male Students Studying Abroad?

Jeffrey Selinger:

Even as new enrollments of international students at colleges in the United States have declined over the past two years, the number of American students studying abroad continues to grow. Some 332,700 students studied overseas in the 2016–17 academic year, up 17 percent from five years ago and 27 percent from a decade ago.

But one group of students is underrepresented in the surge of undergraduates going overseas: men. In 2016–17, women accounted for more than two-thirds of American students studying abroad, a proportion that has remained constant for more than a decade.

Colleges have long blamed the gender disparity on the simple fact that women outnumber men on campuses and tend to major in disciplines that historically have accounted for a large share of overseas programs, such as the humanities, the social sciences, and foreign languages. Meanwhile, fields dominated by men, mostly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, have a reputation for being less hospitable to overseas study because of demanding degree requirements.

But STEM majors now represent the largest group of students abroad, making up a quarter of all undergrads overseas. Business, another major popular with men, comes in a close second, at 21 percent. Both academic fields have surpassed the social sciences, which led the pack until 2012.