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Higher Education Is for Women

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"Girls go to college to get more knowledge. Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider!"
Children's rhyme

When a cast of teenage characters graduate from High School, the girls are more likely to go to university while the boys are more likely to either get a job straight out of the gate, join the military, or at least decide that university is not for them (sometimes briefly attending before dropping out). While there is a Real Life gender split when it comes to higher education — that is to say, proportionally more women go to university — in fiction, this trend can come across as heavily exaggerated. Its representation in modern fiction may be a consequence of real-world statistics and common notions in fiction — perhaps a combination of the belief that female characters should automatically be smarter and that academia is not an appropriately "manly" or "heroic" pursuit for your male protagonist(s).

This is an Evolving Trope as society changes — a couple of generations ago, the gender ratio would have been reversed; and as late as the 1970s, young women attending further education would have been stereotyped as looking out for potential husbands. Currently, the sex ratio in universities is lopsidedly female, but there are often differences in the gender percentage of individual majors — the STEM fields (natural and formal sciences, technology, and engineering fields) are more often than not a sausage fest, but women tend to dominate social sciences, arts, and humanities (also known as social studies), the kinds of fields that are often considered A Degree in Useless; business fields can swing either way but tend to lean slightly more towards men. For further analysis of the gender breakdown in scientific study, compare the manner in which Hard on Soft Science is frequently divided up by gender ("hard science" = male, "soft science" = female). That aside, the big exception to this "divide" is medicine and medical studies in general, one of the hard sciences that is dominated by women.

Contrast MRS Degree, which is about women getting into higher education not to get an education but a husband with one, although both this trope and the opposite trope can overlap if the woman wants both an education and a husband, particularly if she didn't have a High School Sweetheart.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Inverted in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. Almost everyone goes off to college, with the two who don't (Terashima and Hayasaka) being female. Although, this is balanced out by Osaragi being the only one who attends grad school.
  • Listen to me, girls. I am your father!: In the Rojou Kansatsu Kenkyuu Nisshi series, Yuuta was tricked into thinking he impregnated Raika and would have to get a job to support her while she furthered her education. Only after signing what he believed to be wedding papers, he realized he actually joined the Street Observation Research Society.
  • Averted with Sailor Moon. Only three of the main characters have ambitions that actually require a university degree and The One Guy is one of them: Mamoru and Ami want to be doctors and Setsuna is a physics major at university. Male Book Dumb characters in the franchise are a rarity.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1 & Sensation Comics: Back in the Golden Age of Comics Diana's supporting cast was mostly made up of men who'd joined the military straight out of high school like Steve Trevor and women who were in college (specifically Holliday College), had gone to college, or had gotten a job straight out of high school so their young sister(s) could go to college.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In Animorphs, the Andalites value education and intelligence in general, but when it comes to careers, they play this straight. In their culture, the sciences and the arts are considered the domains of females, while males are expected to join the military.
  • In A Brother's Price, education is for women. Jerin's ability to read and write is highly unusual ... not to mention his ability to read thieves' cant. He meets Cullen, whose cousin tries to teach him how to read and write, but Cullen isn't a good pupil as he considers it a waste of time.
  • Harry Potter: During Deathly Hallows, the main trio are unable to attend their last year at Hogwarts due to the war against Voldemort. According to Word of God, Hermione was the only one who went back to take her seventh year post-series, while Harry and Ron took advantage of Kingsley's offer to immediately join the Auror Department.
  • On The Chalk, in the Discworld novels, education full-stop is for women; it's generally agreed that it's useful for the girls to visit the Wandering Teachers when they arrive to learn reading and arithmetic (which are, after all, useful for running a household), but there's no sense in the boys filling their heads with stuff. This may have changed with the building of a permanent schoolhouse in I Shall Wear Midnight.
  • The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson is an interesting example. Alethi culture has very strict gender roles, and among those is that education is seen as an exclusively feminine pursuit. With the exception of the Ardents (a priestly caste that ignores most gender rules), Alethi men can't even read or write. That said, there are some professions that men are allowed higher education in, such as surgery or commerce, but they have to memorize it all and have women on standby for anything requiring literacy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Beverly Hills, 90210, only three characters go on to university: Annie, Ivy, and Naomi — even though Naomi is an indifferent student at best it is never even suggested she might not want to go to university and Ivy likewise was never suggested to be a particularly book smart girl. Another female character (Silver) was all set to go but her interview was sabotaged by her rival. Meanwhile, all boys are abandoning their education, even the nerdy Navid.
  • Very much averted by The Big Bang Theory, with the only main character below a Master's level of education being Penny. Penny does later return to community college, however.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Buffy and Willow go to university while Xander didn't, though that's more because his grades were terrible. Cordelia got accepted to several universities but couldn't go because her family fortune vanished when her father went to jail for tax evasion. Oz did go to university, but seemingly only because Willow was going — he certainly dropped out quickly when they broke up.
  • Dawson's Creek had Dawson go to university but drop out almost at once. Pacey didn't go at all making Jack the only male main character to keep attending. Both girls (Joey and Jen) went to university and the new female main character (Audrey) was also a university girl.
  • On Family Matters, this trope was played straight within the Winslow family. Laura was a straight-A student and was on her way to becoming a lawyer, but Eddy was never good in school, and even though he spent a couple of years in college, he would drop out to become a policeman instead. Steve however is an aversion, as he too had always had been a straight-A student and was excelling in College.
  • Father Brown: Joan in "Labyrinth Of The Minotaur". Noteworthy as this is The '50s and the typical reason for a woman to go to higher education is for a MRS Degree. But Joan is actually studious, bookish, and bright.
  • Gilmore Girls: Rory Gilmore and Paris Geller were both accepted into numerous Ivy League schools and Lane also attended college. Meanwhile, neither of Rory's ex-boyfriends considered carrying on serious study: Dean dropped out of community college and Jess didn't even graduate high school. Logan did attend college but only because his father forced him to and spent most of his time partying, as did all his male college friends while all of Rory's female suitemates were focused and highly intelligent.
  • In The O.C., Summer and Taylor went to university. Ryan and Seth did not, at least at first.
  • Parks and Recreation: The issue of college being considered unmanly (see Real Life), was Discussed in one episode:
    Ron: My first day of college, my father dropped me off at the steel mill. He didn't think I should go to college, but I hitched a ride, enrolled, and learned a lot.
  • Power Rangers: The number of confirmed female college-goers/females with doctorates far outnumbers the males. Compare Katherine Hillard, Dana Mitchell, Angela Fairwather, Alyssa Enrile, Hayley Ziktor, Kat Manx, Rose Ortiz, Dr. K and Mia Watanabe who were all confirmed to either have a higher education or were explicitly being shipped off to it in the epilogue, to Tommy Oliver and Andrew Hartford as two of the few male characters to attend college.
  • In Roseanne, Darlene went to college (and in fact got accepted into a writing program early) and Becky wanted to; however, her plans were derailed when she got married. Neither of the two boys who the Conner daughters dated went. David wanted to but was rejected. Mark, who was shown to be an incredibly gifted mechanic, attempted a local garage management program but dropped out.

    Video Games 
  • In Sword of the Stars, Tarka culture is very prejudiced against males in positions of higher education. This is due to the belief that their male hormones make them too irrational and emotional to do well at it. Most positions that require long education are instead filled by females, with males being more involved in the military and lower-education jobs.

    Visual Novels 
  • Played with in Daughter for Dessert. Mortelli is implied not to be a college graduate, and while the protagonist did graduate college, his degree has never been any help to his professional life. Notably, Amanda and Kathy, who both come from humble origins, are in college, and Amanda uses some of her college lessons to help save the diner.
  • The two characters in Double Homework who will definitely go to college are Johanna and Amy. Rachel is also likely college-bound. Of the surviving male cast, Henry will likely not go (ever), while the protagonist only enrolls in college in Amy’s epilogue.


    Western Animation 
  • Daria is almost a case of Graduation for Everyone (in Daria's grade), with everyone off to college as well. The exception is Kevin, who winds up flunking even as his girlfriend Brittany, none too bright herself, is accepted to exactly one school, which is noted for having one of the country's top cheerleading squads.
  • As part of their overachiever/underachiever dynamic, Kim Possible receives a mountain of college offers as she nears the end of high school, while her sidekick and boyfriend Ron is left going begging. This becomes a plot issue in the Grand Finale, as he comes to believe she will (or should) shoot away into a stellar future and leave him in the dirt.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Flashback episode "That '90s Show" revealed Marge went to college after high school while Homer formed a grunge band.
    • A very realistic Flash Forward shows Maggie and Lisa at college while Bart works a blue-collar job. Though he mentions that he's planning to go to law school once he feels he's ready for it.
    • "Lisa the Simpson" took this to the logical extreme: Almost every woman in the extended Simpson family (aunts, nieces, cousins, etc.) had graduated from college, as well as being successful in their careers. Almost every man, however... didn't. Bart and Homer, upon learning this, simply shrug their shoulders and join their uncles, nephews, and cousins in a head-butting contest. Apparently, this is because there is a hereditary gene for extreme stupidity in the Simpson family that only carries down the Y chromosome, meaning all Simpson males are doomed to be idiots at birth.
    • Played with in "Holidays of Future Passed" where the family photographs revealed that Bart and Lisa went to college while Maggie had either dropped out or didn't make it to/chose not to go to college. Soon Bart flunked out of college after a year while Maggie became a famous rock star.
  • Steven Universe: Future:
    • Inverted when The Suspects decide to disband to pursue their own interests. Buck is the only one who’s pursuing postsecondary education because he wants to be a doctor. Jenny, meanwhile, has started her own online phone case business, Sadie becomes a solo music artist and continues her life on tour with her romantic partner Shep, and Sour Cream moves to Empire City because he has become a popular DJ there.
    • This is Played Straight in the Grand Finale when Connie is planning to go to college, while Steven decides to move out of Beach City and travel around the country until he finds a place where he wants to live.

    Real Life 
  • In the United States since at least 1990, women both enroll in and graduate from college at higher rates than men, as multiple studies show clearly.
    • It's not just college either, it's grad school and professional programs. Women have earned more PhDs than men every year since 2008. There are now more women than men in law school (since 2016) and medical school (since 2017). Women make up 80% of attendees in veterinary school and over 60% of attendees of pharmacy in school. Pharmacy, in particular, is considered to be the best career choice for women due to its high pay and the possibility of flexible hours. You can work part-time and still make good money or you can also work from 6-2 and be off by the time your kids get home from school. The gender wage gap (which largely comes from women still bearing the brunt of childcare) is negligible between men and women pharmacists.
    • Ditto for Canada. One factor is that men with high school or (especially) trades education can still earn very good wages; men in some trades fields earn more than those with a university degree. In contrast, women who don't go to university consistently have very low wages, making university basically the only option for women who want a good career.
  • Paul Willis' iconic book Learning to Labour discusses how, for working-class men, the whole notion of education is feminized, because 'real' men get a job quick smart.
  • Practically an Enforced Trope in Singapore, as by law, almost every 16-year-old Singaporean male or man who's finished his pre-university education has to enlist in the army for about 2 years, meaning that girls who graduated from the High School equivalent in the same year as the boys are two years ahead by the time they're out of the army.
  • In Pakistan, women attend university at higher rates than men, and get advanced degrees at much higher rates. Unfortunately, those same women are less likely than men to actually use the training they have, as society expects them to give up their careers to become mothers once they get married.
  • Due to an observed phenomenon in patriarchal societies, this is a trend of attitude that may be likely to continue: work and practices thought of as 'feminine,' like nursing and teaching, tend to be devalued, paid less, and have fewer opportunities for advancement. On the flip side, the more a job is considered "male," the more it is likely to have longer hours, less stability, greater health hazards and a higher tolerance for mortality rates. 'Male' areas are given more esteem unless they are labor work (think Dirty Jobs). A woman going into a "man's" field is considered admirable (but may receive unwanted attention), but a man going into a "woman's" field can be considered inept at best and a potential predator at worst (but may receive better opportunities and treatment within the field in a phenomenon known as the “glass escalator”). Higher education can also be seen as good for women due to social advancement for women or for the "benevolent" sexism that women are too fragile for trade and labor work and need to be in "protected" office jobs.
  • Since many factory and labor jobs have been outsourced, automated, or become obsolete since the Turn of the Millennium and the economy is shifting to computer-based, service-based work, economic downturns have been hitting young working class men far more than young women. Parents may be more eager to send their daughters to school but figure their sons can just go and work a labor job (or or join the Army) like their fathers did. Mix high unemployment and lower education rates for young men, high student debt and lower pay for women, and you have young people unable to marry because a young man who can't support his half of the family bills is almost unmarriageable and young women can't get out of the student debt so they can support a family.