While Yale sent 72 female students abroad this year, only 22 male students ventured outside the U.S., reflecting a surprisingly large gender imbalance. The disparity is more extreme than it was last year, administrators said, but the term abroad gender gap is not a new phenomenon.
In past years, the split between women and men going abroad from Yale has been closer to 60 percent versus 40 percent. Last year, 60 females and 49 males studied abroad. This 60-40 split conforms more closely to the nationwide trend in study abroad programs. Statistics from the Institute of International Education show that, despite expanding study abroad options, more women go abroad than men.
IIE Program Officer Hey-Kyung Koh said there are several theories about why more women study abroad than men, but that none of them can completely explain the phenomenon.
“I would say that historically, I think [study abroad has] been something that has been more female,” she said. “I think in the past, the types of programs were really geared toward girls.”
Traditionally, study abroad programs have attracted students in the humanities, subjects which attract more females than males as majors. When study abroad programs first began, they were primarily at women’s schools, such as Sweet Briar and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, International Education and Fellowship Programs assistant director Karen Jones said.
Erik Sorensen ’04, who took a semester off to go to Spain and audit classes, said he thought maybe academic interests did have something to do with the gender imbalance.
“It seems like in my Spanish classes, most of the people are girls,” he said. “People usually go [abroad] to improve their language skills, unless they’re going to Oxford or Cambridge, so maybe the people who are interested in continuing languages are the girls.”
But the offerings of study abroad programs have expanded over the past few decades, with more programs being offered in science and business, Jones said. The breakdown of majors has changed as well, with more women majoring in science.
“Women had a tradition of study abroad,” she said. “Things are slow to change.”
Koh said she thinks more men are going abroad now than in the past, but statistics indicate that the gender balance has remained the same because more females are going abroad as well.
IIE studies show that the percentage of females to males going abroad has hovered around 60-40, with a 65-35 split in the 2000-2001 school year, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Jones said this year’s breakdown at Yale was particularly surprising because previously, the numbers had been more closely in line with national trends.
“It wasn’t quite that skewed last year,” she said. “Next year it could be anything again.”
At Yale, male study abroad peer advisors outnumber women 8-to-4, and Jones said she remembers having spoken to many males this year about studying abroad. She said Yale-in-London usually has a more even split than other programs.
Joshua Secrest ’04, who went to Yale-in-London last spring, said his year was the “first time in Yale-in-London history” when there was a male majority.
Students who have studied abroad said they have not found any satisfying explanation for the trend, but said their experiences have confirmed the existence of the imbalance.
Colleen Kinder ’03, who studied in the Dominican Republic last spring, said her program had about 30 women and 3 men.
“I remember asking [my program director] and she said the Dominican Republic gets more people who are looking to do community service because there’s a special community service component of my study abroad, and she said girls are more into community service,” Kinder said.
Megan Trice ’04 said she often had discussions with other girls about why so few male students seemed to be abroad in Spain.
“Maybe guys who take time off just travel, or don’t take time off?” she said. “I feel like I met a lot of guys that were just traveling but not a lot of guys that were in programs.”