Why do so many more women study abroad?

The ratio is about 2-1.  And it’s not just because women are concentrated in the "study abroad intensive" humanities:

The National Science Foundation reports that men earn 80 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering. But women’s participation in a study abroad consortium for engineers, the Global Engineering Education Exchange, typically ranges from 30 to nearly 40 percent (39.3 percent this academic year) – far outstripping their 20 percent representation in the field.

Here is what the experts think:

Among the many conventional wisdom-type explanations pervading in the study abroad field: differing maturity and risk-taking levels among 18- to 21-year-old men and women; a sense that females, concerned about safety, are more inclined to attend a college-sanctioned study abroad program than travel on their own; and, again, varying study abroad participation rates in male versus female-dominated fields.

I favor a more Hansonian explanation, such as this:

“The three main factors I found were motherhood, age and safety,” said McKinney, associate director of the Center for Global Education at Butler University. “Essentially, my informants shared with me that they really hope someday to be mothers and they can’t imagine being able to travel abroad and also be a mom. So if they’re going to have an overseas experience, they’re going to do it before they become mothers,” she said, adding that her informants “really felt plagued by the age of 30. They have a very long to-do list.”

If that hypothesis is true, what are the other testable implications?  What other forms of intertemporal substitution should we observe?


That doesn't sound very Hansonian to me. I'd say it is more like why more women go to college and more live in NYC; women see travel as more high status and as ways to meet high status men.

Need more data:

1) What's the ratio of women to men (in the appropriate age group) that travel abroad on their own?

2) Is there a difference based on english / non-english speaking destinations?

3) Why not ask: why do so few men study abroad?

My girlfriend works in urban development planning and wants to go abroad soon because you can't (or it's significantly harder, especially in a 3rd world country) when you have a kid.

Guys don't have the same biological timeline.

I know at least a few of her friends (in the same field) have the same plans for the same timeline-related reasons.

Leave the kid with the folks and head to Italy for six months!

The parents love that sort of thing.

So they can be promiscuious without any consequences. No joke this is it, anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Look at all the movies about women going abroad, that's what they think it's all about.

How about: college majors for which study abroad is more advantageous and encouraged are disproportionately female. E.g., Spanish vs Comp Sci.

Josh: True, but it's a bit of a running joke that men are not interested in hearing women talk*rimshot*

Apologies for the jokes; I realize it's a legitimate inquiry.

I've never traveled aroad - do schools shoulder costs that one would have to pay for if she traveled independently? Art history and spanish majors might have a harder time financing independent travel. after school.

So they can be promiscuious without any consequences. No joke this is it, anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.

Uh oh! I'd better keep my girlfriend under heavy surveillance when we're over there, then. Thanks for the tip! And all this time I thought she had a developed career interest in urban planning, combined with a genuine wish to better understand the world outside our borders. Boy, was I a prejudiced, completely knowledge-free schmuck, eh?.

Hope it's not on your dime, mk!

FYI, I don't believe it's physically possible for a woman to "sow oats" - ie "scatter seeds" - ie have children by many different mates in a short period of time (in the case of studying abroad, that's typically 6-12 months) leaving them to be brought up without her assistance.

What about that women more often attend smaller liberal arts schools - schools which encourage more traveling abroad. That's got to factor in.

I'm a girl who just got back from a year abroad, and my decidedly non-empirical impression is that:
1) Study abroad programs require students to be a little bit more willing to get forms in, adjust their schedules, and generally have their academic shit together, for something that will not earn them money. This group of students skews female.
2) Guys tend to place more value on the drinking beer with your friends aspect of the college social life than do girls.

satoshi kanazawa wrote about a broader version of this observation. genetic studies have shown women in general throughout the ages in all regions of the world have been more likely to travel than men. his hypothesis was that women's status is easily transferable, while men's status is not.

women's status is transferable b/c female attractiveness is, in large part, universal. men's status, which consists primarily of power and wealth, has historically not been as easily transferable to a new culture. if u're a high status female, u might be able to increase the fitness of ur offspring by mating w/ high status males wherever u might find them. if u're a high status male moving into a new culture, the new culture will likely have a different power structure and ur wealth might or might not be evident to high status females. why would a high status male risk losing his position when he already has high status?

u could argue that college students have already attained one measure of high status, which is entrance into an institution of higher learning. unless u're from an ivy league school which is recognized around the world, how likely is it that a female in another part of the world will hold u in high status? males of non-ivy league schools would have less reason to travel than the females.

They don't know books can be shipped?

For god sakes, don't tell them.

I moved abroad after college because studying abroad would have messed up my studies. I lived abroad for several years and met plenty of foreign men who also moved as a personal choice, but I didn't meet any women who weren't there because of their job or husband.

Perhaps more men sky-dive, and more women use sky-diving simulators. More men scuba dive, more women go to the aquarium. More men pillage foreign countries, more women go to art museums to look at stolen art.

I think my brother and father would tell family friends I was incarcerated or in rehab before they'd tell them I was scampering around Europe. I just don't think its perceived as a very manly or productive thing to do. The safety issue doesn't resonate with me because I don't see many of my male friends expressing any interest to go anywhere but Las Vegas, now or ever. I've seen that in general women and men approach college differently and thats probably fair enough. This, like gender distributions by major, is pretty solid evidence of that.

I wasn't clear, but the men were single. Maybe there are some married men who can tell their wife that they're quitting their job and moving the family abroad, but I doubt there are many.

"2) Guys tend to place more value on the drinking beer with your friends aspect of the college social life than do girls."

I'm not so sure I agree with this reason, especially considering how much more accessible alcohol tends to be in countries outside of the US.

if U are in Haiti, then don't bother using a condom. After all, U are only going to be there once. :).

I can understand why Prof Cowen things traveling is awesome, but what am I going to do, write a book on comparative differential equations?

Seriously, what am I missing? I'd go so far as to venture that these study abroad programs exist to supply a service specifically demanded by women.

All I can see it as either a crappy way to travel, or an even worse way to study.

Women have a romantic image of places like Paris, London, and Rome. Men do not, or least not as much.

When I think of traveling to those places, I think of rain, smelly fish, and over-zealous Catholics. I would much rather stay home, drink beer, and order Dominoes.

It seems to extend to local internship programs. A commenter over at insidehighered writes, "The disparity is not only found in programs abroad; our off-campus residential internship program in Chicago has a consistently 80-20 split."

In the article the example of an all male college in given where it seems participation in going overseas is strong -- i.e., likelihood of male going from male school is higher than for male going from coed school.

It may be that internships and studying abroad are perceived as things girls do -- driving "manly" men away. The same seems to clearly happen in some majors. Likewise careers. There's a snowball effect the other factors cited above (men can't their shit together, for women it's now or never, safety) get amplified.

i cant make money studying abroad.

if i had the money to study abroad i wouldnt waste my time with the studying part

We should see slightly more women than men in universities, period.
If women want to get through their to-do lists sooner, then they have more pressure to get through school and to do slightly better than men. Men might feel more ambivalent about getting through school, getting married, getting a job, etc. If men are only slightly less pressured to get through school, then if they postpone just one year of their education there will be more women than men in university due to population growth. (c.f. Schelling)

Great post!!

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"2) Guys tend to place more value on the drinking beer with your friends aspect of the college social life than do girls."

I'm not so sure I agree with this reason, especially considering how much more accessible alcohol tends to be in countries outside of the US.

Drinking is easier, but making new friends is a pain in the butt.

Boy, was I a prejudiced, completely knowledge-free schmuck, eh?.

No, just clueless.

And it wouldn't surprise me if you pee sitting down....

Anecdotes aren't data, etc. but a couple of observations. Katie is right -- to do a semester or year abroad programs means having not only done the necessary paperwork, but also having been organized enough to have already taken the appropriate classes before even applying to a program.

Many of the women in my year abroad program were dual-majors and went to ensure their fluency in a foreign language. The other degree was often a scientific or business one.

Point of interest on semesters to graduation: most of the people I know who finished college in under 8 semesters were women, often to avoid paying for an extra year's tuition; men generally were the laggards who managed to blow off the one class they needed to get the degree. Again, anecdotal, but clearly tied to maturity and organization.

Oh, and living abroad is very different from traveling abroad. Done both, both are fun, but they are not interchangeable experiences. The experience part maybe the most telling.

1) Men derive their status from their social circle and reputations, while women derive theirs from their looks. A traveling man cannot take his status with him, but a travelling woman can.

2) Girls like to bang just as much as guys, but fear of a slutty reputation among their friends and family incite them to do their philandering in the anonymity of foreign countries.

3) In most mammal species, and I think all primate, either male siblings form tribes with females from other tribes or vice versa. Maybe humans way back when shacked up in groups of related males, with unrelated females from neighboring tribes. In such a situation, traveling men would be more likely to be killed by rival males than assimilated into new tribes.

mk there is a 10% chance that your relationship will be intact and infidelity-free one year from today. Just sayin'

Girls like to bang just as much as guys, but fear of a slutty reputation among their friends and family incite them to do their philandering in the anonymity of foreign countries.

I actually find very little interest on the part of white American women toward dating locals in Africa (unless they are white South Africans) or Asia. Many of these women lament the fact that they can't snag a decent white dude because the white guys are too busy seeking out local girls. A lot of the foreign women in these places cling to long-distance boyfriends back home or stay single. The article notes that the ratio of women to men is even more skewed in programs in African countries. In Europe, of course, the story is entirely different.

As a man (I love saying that) I still haven't read any real benefits that would make me want to study abroad.

The one that keeps popping up, ahem, is..."dating." But, considering that females tend to require long wooing before entering a relationship, perhaps women traveling have an advantage even here.

If I were a woman, I might think, "who knows, I might meet someone." If I'm a guy, I might think, "I'll meet a lot of people, but won't the have time or energy to win it on the road."

Women tend to go to college for the college experience, the means IS the end. Men tend to go to college to support themselves and a future family. They know that earning power is key to attracting a keeping a woman. just as women know that being sexy is key to them attracting and keeping a man.

SO the man sees study abroad as expensive fluff, where the women see it as an expansion of the "experience" of college.

Katie's observations sound about right to me. I'd probably add that sports probably tend to be a bigger part of the college experience for guys than gals and that's at least one other thing to be worked around to arrange study-abroad.

I'm not really sure we're looking at this correctly...

How big is the population of US college students abroad vs. the total population of US college students?

I'm guessing the ratio is fairly small, as in: low single digit percentage.

That women are overrepresented in this tiny group is interesting, but I think you'd first have to ask what it is about this group that distinguishes them from the overall population.

This is probably not 'PC,' but what is the ratio of male/female applicants and does this correlate with the number of males/females who are sent abroad? Is it possible that there is preferential bias toward sending a female student? Just wondering.

I studied abroad for two years in college, and I'm kind of surprised that there's a trend in more women than men taking advantage of it.

I just can't believe the "women aren't career focused" and "they want to do it safe and before they have kiddos" explanations are correct, at least without seeing anything more than made-up speculation to support it. And the "they want to be able to be promiscuous" explanation is also bunk -- it might be a nice side bonus for some, but it's not going to be the motivating factor for anyone.

For everyone I know who studied abroad, anyway, the appeal was the obvious: getting to go explore a fun new place, and learn some cool stuff while backpacking through a different country every weekend. Who /wouldn't/ want to do that? Can that really somehow be less appealing to guys?

The most compelling explanation to me is that men in college are more concerned about enhancing their future careers, while women are more concerned about expanding their horizons. One obstacle for many men who want to study abroad is that there are few universities outside of the US with the breadth and depth of course offerings that the average American university has.

I'm not familiar with Satoshi Kanazawa's work, but empirically immigrants skew largely men, so I don't think it's that women are innately more likely to travel. Moreover, to the extent that status transfers differently, I would assume that an American woman is likely to be treated poorly in much of the world than she is in the US. I don't think that US men are likely to experience that to the same degree.

Asia is fantastic for single males to study abroad in. They're missing out.

The discrepancy is possibly because of the way study abroad is marketed, as a "find yourself" type of experience rather than go abroad and have fun.

I have a better idea:

Essentially, this is my theory. Where do most Americans study abroad? The list tops off at Italy and Spain, UK, and France.

Check this out:

It's very simple. It's hard for American guys to hook up with Spanish, Italian, or French chicks. In comparison, it's easy for girls to hook up with these stereotypically attractive men from these countries. So, it's in the woman's hook up interest to study abroad. And everyone knows how gaga American girls go over the British accent.

Yes, I think they have study abroad. Everyone want to learn more and more...... there may boy or girl.

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