Discover more from Hold That Thought by Sarah Haider
Who Gives Men Money?
A look into scholarships
I’ve been reading Richard Reeves’ new book, Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It. I am not yet finished, but the very first chapter led me down a rabbit hole, which then led to some interesting findings, some of which I thought were interesting enough to share with you.
First, the context: Reeves begins his book with a focus on education, specifically, on the fact that males are falling drastically behind in nearly every measure. The delay begins early, starting in elementary school and follows them into college and beyond. In the US, for example, 57% of bachelor's degrees are now awarded to women, and that trend is mirrored across the world. “In every country in the OECD, there are now more young women than young men with a bachelor’s degree”.
Looking into numbers sent to him from an analysis of dropouts in the New York Times, Reeves finds that “taking into account other factors, such as test scores, family income, and high school grades, male students are at a higher risk of dropping out of college than any other group, including poor students, Black students, or foreign-born students.” (Emphasis mine.)
If one holds a “structural” view of inequality, it appears that being male is a massive disadvantage, the kind that equity politics are designed address. But it is not being addressed, or at least, not publicly. Colleges really are concerned about the skew, but largely because it is bad news for admissions in the long run—few males will make the college less attractive for women too. In this self-interest, it appears private schools are employing what Reeves calls a “stealth affirmative action” in favor of men.
But getting into college is one thing. What about the enormous difficulties of financing an education?
It isn’t as easy to grant “stealth scholarships”, so men remain left out in that regard, as Reeves briefly notes. I wanted to find out just how left out, so I went through some of the top scholarship aggregators hoping to get a feel for what the landscape looks like for a young man trying to fund their education. Here are some notes from what I found through my (admittedly, rough) search:
As far as I can tell, “Male” is the only noticeably underrepresented demographic in college that is also highly underrepresented in the scholarship world.
In fact, it is the only demographic where the majority receives many more exclusive scholarship opportunities than the minority. According to a study by the SAVE Title IX Equity Project analyzing scholarships exclusive to one sex in 115 universities, “among 1,161 sex-specific scholarships, 91.6% were reserved for female students, with only 8.4% designated for male students.”
Not surprising, exactly. Perhaps a bit more surprising: Despite a lot of crowing about how few men go into female dominated fields, as far as I could find, there is little money offered to encourage them. Women who wish to “break barriers” in STEM can look forward to diving into a mountain of money, but men who wish to do the same in a profession like Speech-Language Pathology (90%+ female) can look forward to nothing of the sort.
Male-exclusive clubs and societies care about men, and that’s about it.
Most aggregator sites don’t even have a separate category for male-only scholarships. Scholarships.com does, and so I went through their list just to see who might actually be interested in men. Here is what I found after a rough search: Out of a list of 68, ~10 weren’t actually male-exclusive or seemed to be tagged incorrectly. Out of the rest, 11 were only open for black men. A couple were funded by religious groups, aimed at men training to be clergy or otherwise take on leadership roles in the faith community. Out of the remainder, a full 37 were affiliated with fraternities, making them the largest funder of male-only scholarships on that list. If one includes the few associated with boy or eagle scouts, male-exclusive associations make up ~70% of the academic scholarship funders.1
Meanwhile, a far more diverse group is interested in helping women, particularly women in STEM. I didn’t do as thorough a search of the list for females, but from a quick overview it is clear that women do not have to rely on sororities or sorority alumni at all. Many of the scholarships come from various women’s professional associations, or “women’s groups” within larger associations. Still others are sponsored by companies, family foundations, or even nonprofits. The largest scholarship listed (full-tuition for four years—orders of magnitudes higher than any amount offered in the male category) is funded by the party game, Cards Against Humanity. The women’s list is also 4-5 times as long as the men’s list.
The Wrong Kind of Victim
Why don’t scholarships reflect the reality on the ground, and indeed, may be making the disparity worse?
I’ve been involved in the charitable world for most of my life, and although it has many merits, one of the clear faults is that it is a sector that is highly responsive to cultural signaling. The explicit question donors might ask themselves is “who do I want to give to”, but there is an implicit question too: who do I want to be seen giving to? A long-time progressive might earn some social credit if they give to the homeless, but they may earn more if they give to racial justice. The latter would signal more than their selflessness: it would prove that they prize certain values, and are “woke” to certain truths about the world. “Homeless” is too general and traditional of a category to grant that additional benefit. (From this perspective, Sam Bankman-Fried’s donations to the effective altruism movement are very interesting. If one understands much of his public persona as a deliberately-crafted front to distract from colossal fraud, it is clear that his interest in effective altruism was mostly related to its effective social signaling. A kind-hearted person gives to local shelters. A kind-hearted, smart person gives to malaria prevention.)
One way to think about the effect of signaling might be to imagine how the shape of philanthropy might change if it was somehow completely anonymized (that is to say, the charity would not know who gave the funds, and the donor could not reveal who they gave to). I know from personal experience that donors are often hesitant to be associated with controversial causes, regardless of how important they think the work might be. With complete anonymity, there might be a great deal less giving overall, and of the remainder, it would certainly be different giving.
But even if we got full anonymity, the advantage in the scholarship game might still go to women, as what people know to be a “good cause” is determined by their understanding of what is true, which is necessarily warped by the culture they inhabit.
And our culture hates men.
In his book, Reeves notes the prominence of the idea of “toxic masculinity” and the absence of a female equivalent. Of course, this prominence doesn’t come out of nowhere—it is part and parcel of a worldview fixated on power-relations and with casting groups of people into neat boxes of have and have-nots. In this conception of the world, men have power and the powerful, by definition, can only be victims of their own volition. Hillary Clinton’s infamous “women have always been the primary victims of war” comment was not just a slip of the tongue—there is a whole class of politics that cannot imagine men as deserving of sympathy. As the true agents in the world, they are to blame for victimization—even their own.
But this explains why no one else is interested in giving scholarships to men—so why are fraternities sticking around?
I’m not sure, but here is my guess.
What if fraternities are a kind of counter-culture, and therefore able to see a need invisible to others? Strange to imagine, I know! But counter-culture doesn’t have to be hippies and beatniks, it merely has to be an undercurrent that pushes back against mainstream thought. Of course, there is little evidence that Greek culture fosters any kind of deliberate thinking at all, much less counter-cultural thinking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the environment fosters a reflexive distrust of the veracity of mainstream cultural narratives.
Besides literal hate groups, there are few associations quite as despised by the culture-making industries as the American frat—allegedly a veritable hotbed of “-isms” and “-phobias”, the personification of privilege. (I myself am not free from this bias. Although my personal interactions with fraternity guys were never bad, I did think of them as “obnoxious” for reasons I can’t clearly justify). Worse, Greek culture is exclusive in a literal sense—a moral crime in the eyes of campus activists and administrators who scheme to get them permanently removed from campus. Alumni of such societies might be more willing to resist the narrative that men don’t need help.
Or maybe it is something else entirely. Not altruism, but just an extension of the in-group loyalty fostered by Greek culture. They may not see this as the area of “greatest need” (or care whether it is), but feel a powerful duty to lend their help regardless. The steady decline of male-exclusive clubs and associations might be, at least in this sense, a bad thing.
Finally, the wage gap myth helps perpetuate unfairness in scholarships.
I was amused to note that several scholarship platforms / aggregators had enough awareness to feel the need to justify their category for female-exclusive scholarships, prefacing their lists with half-baked essays on why they are a necessary good. The cornerstone argument was often the “wage gap”—the myth that refuses to die, no matter how many times it is refuted.
Well, that’s it for this rabbit hole. Look out for my upcoming full review/essay of Reeve’s book, and if you value this work, please consider sharing, or becoming a paying subscriber.
Of course, excluding athletic scholarships, which one cannot apply for through these sites. Presumably, their number is fairly stable. In other scholarship aggregators I searched through, small community-based athletic scholarships came up as well. But like other athletic scholarships, they are extremely specific, limited to members of a local team. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case for many of the fraternity-affiliated scholarships. For more than half from the list on scholarships.org, fraternity membership was explicitly declared not required. Meanwhile one of the frat-associated scholarships (Men of Principle, Beta Theta Pi) is specifically designated for non-Greek men.