Last month I mentioned in passing that not only do more women than men from the PRC take the GMAT, but that the gap is increasing. Worldwide, about 50% more men than women take the GMAT, and men far outnumber women in MBA programs worldwide, so the tendency of the PRC’s women to dominate their male counterparts in GMAT taking merits a closer look.
English seems to be a factor:
– I interview MBA candidates for a Chinese b-school. Our team routinely meets 25-40 candidates in an interview season, and routinely 70-80% are men. But the women we interview consistently surpass the men in English conversation ability.
Another phenomenon well worth noting: The PRC’s young women are especially interested in master’s-level accounting programs, typically abbreviated MAcc (Master of Accounting) or MPAcc (Master of Professional Accounting).
– Two of the top ten US-based master’s-level accounting programs report a remarkable gender split. At the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, the Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc) program not only has about four times as many PRC women as men applying, but the total number of applicants from the PRC represents a majority of its entire international applicant pool.
– The University of Southern California’s Leventhal School of Accounting reports an even more dramatic split: 85% of applicants for its MAcc program from the PRC are women. The school’s acceptance rate is even more aggressively skewed toward women, reflecting the relative quality of the female vs. male applicants. "I have stopped marveling at this statistic as it’s so consistent," said Professor Shirley Maxey, dean of the MPAcc program. Maxey reports asking the PRC women in her classes why the gender split is so pronounced; they offer several explanations, including, "Accounting in China is more of a woman’s profession," and, "Women are better at truly learning and using English."
To know whether these two programs’ female-male split is the norm rather than the exception, we need data from more programs. And to know whether the female-male split in the accounting programs is the primary driver of the female-male split in China’s GMAT takers overall, or whether the test-taking split represents a wider skew between the PRC’s women and men in their desire to take any graduate business program overseas, we need data from the business schools.
But anecdotal evidence suggests that both factors may be at play: a higher percentage of women applying for graduate business programs overseas than at home, and a pronounced female skew in the accounting programs. The two trends together would explain why more than 14,000 of the PRC’s women took the GMAT in 2009, while only about 9,000 of their male counterparts did.
There are some interesting marketing implications here, in line with the saying, "Fish where the fish are":
– Young men seeking suitable marriage partners would do extremely well to develop an interest in accounting.
For China overall, the large number of women in graduate business programs is surely a promising trend. China leads the ex-US world in number of female GMAT takers – China’s women rival Germany’s on a test-takers-per-capita basis, and far outdistance the women of other ex-US large-population countries on the same basis (NB: South Korea’s GMAT-taking women per capita exceed China’s by a factor of four. And in 2009 South Korea sent nearly five times as many of its young people to China for study compared with the number two country of origin, the USA – talk about Confucian dedication to education!).
With such a large portion of its young women going overseas for business education, China seems to be doing an unusually good job at leveraging the half of the population often underused in other countries. And these Chinese women, having gained experience and education overseas, are well prepared to hold up their half of China’s increasingly internationalized sky.
John D. Van Fleet works in the university sector in China. He lives in Shanghai.