“It’s perplexing,” says Michael Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a co-author of a report on the study. “You would think that women’s advantages nationally, with their higher high-school grades, would translate into larger advantages at elite colleges.”
Mr. Bastedo and his fellow researchers sought to explain why that hadn’t happened. Using nationally representative student data from the high-school senior classes of 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2004, they tested three hypotheses. One was that women had applied to the most-selective colleges at lower rates than men did. Another was that colleges had built preferences for men into their admissions processes.
But the researchers found evidence for another explanation: gender disparities in standardized measures of academic ability that colleges value highly. On average, men outperform women on the SAT. That, combined with the importance attributed to test scores in admissions offices, they wrote, creates preferences for men “that drive women’s underenrollment in these institutions.”