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January 31, 2005

Mongolia's reverse gender gap

I have appended an article below on Mongolia's reverse gender gap in higher education...but, here is one thing to note:

Looking over the scores on a recent entrance exam in the Mongolia-language department, he notes that 8 of the top 10 students are women. In economics, women are 7 of the top 10 students; in science departments, women account for about half of the top 10.

This of course follows the trend that I have observed cross-culturally, though the ratio of males to females in any given discipline tends to shift from nation to nation, the rank order seems to hold as a constant, the modal male frequency is in the sciences, in particular, the engineering sciences.

Related: Much ado about women & Larry Summers.

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

Dondog Natsag, a father of three daughters and three sons, is a
typical countryside parent. When each of his sons graduated from high
school, he put little pressure on them to continue their education.
But when it came to his daughters, he was adamant that they should go
on to college. "Of course it's better for girls to go on to university," he says.
"Boys can always find work to do. If girls do not study, the only
thing they can do is find a job in a sewing factory."

Mr. Dondog expresses the sentiments of many Mongolian parents. The
preference to send daughters to college has led to what the United
Nations calls a "reverse gender gap" -- women now make up 60 percent
of all students at Mongolian universities. The trend is particularly
distinctive because Asia is typically considered a place where women
are less valued than men.

"It's just the opposite of much of Asia. Arab and Asian students in
other countries often don't believe" that this could happen, says
Solongo Algaa, a demographer at the National University of Mongolia,
who studies the phenomenon.

Women also perform better than men at places like National University
of Mongolia, says Davaa Suren, the university's vice president.
Looking over the scores on a recent entrance exam in the
Mongolia-language department, he notes that 8 of the top 10 students
are women. In economics, women are 7 of the top 10 students; in
science departments, women account for about half of the top 10.
He shrugs when asked why the gap exists: "Perhaps women are more

"Boys are lazy" seems to be the typical explanation among parents and
other observers. But Ms. Solongo says the problem starts before
students enter college. Young men now make up 70 percent of the
dropouts from compulsory education. In this predominantly agricultural
country, parents often pull their sons out of school so that they can
help with herding duty, long considered a male responsibility.
Boys also lack role models in schools, where 75 percent of the
teachers are women, Ms. Solongo says. She believes that the government
should create policies to encourage boys to stay in primary and
secondary school.

Reversal of Fortune

Until the early 1990s, under the Soviet-style economic system, 60
percent of the students in higher education were male. But with the
collapse of Communism, they could resume their traditional role as
herders of the family livestock. What's more, changing times resulted
in the closure of the government's vocational and technical training
schools. So rather than learn a trade in the capital or a smaller
town, young men remained in the countryside, raising horses, sheep,
and yak to feed their families and to sell the milk and meat.
The idea that parents should pass on material possessions like herds
and land to sons is strong in Mongolia, says the national university's
Ms. Solongo. But parents also believe that daughters should have some
resources of their own, rather than be left to their own devices or
married off to another family, which happens in many other Asian

Education often serves as that resource, she says. In her own family,
for example, her sole brother inherited her parents' apartment and now
works in a factory, while she and her three sisters were sent to
college and have become professionals.
In a culture long dependent on herding and manual labor, Mongolians
have the idea that "boys can do rougher things while girls should work
in the office," Ms. Solongo says.
But advanced education for women has yet to translate into real
economic or political power. "At the top decision levels, there are
very few women," says Sanjaasurengin Oyun, a leading feminist in
Mongolia and head of the Zorig Foundation, which mobilizes the rural
population to vote.

Of the 76 parliamentary seats in Mongolia, only 5 are occupied by
women. "Employers would rather hire males than females," says
Altantsetseg Sodnomtseren, an expert on higher education at the
National University of Mongolia. Upon graduation from college, men
have a much easier time finding jobs than women, says Ms.

Nevertheless, many women entering Mongolia's higher-education system
display confidence that it's a woman's world. Tsedendamba Amartavshin,
who lives in a felt tent called a ger in the countryside near Ulan
Bator, enrolled in the Agriculture University last fall.
Of her four siblings, all boys, only one has also chosen to go on to
higher education. "The girls are just dominating the university," she
says. "And by having a good education, we'll have a good living."

Posted by razib at 04:27 PM