LONDON—Taking shelter from the chilly night inside a cavernous gym in a community center in the East London borough of Newham, two dozen teenagers gossip, stretch, and set up hurdles for a track-and-field training session.
This is one of the few things outside school that young people have to do in this neighborhood, which the government ranks among the country’s poorest. It’s also part of a subtle attempt to address a growing problem the United Kingdom has in common with the United States: After decades in which men in college far outnumbered women, boys are entering higher education at increasingly low numbers.
One-third more girls than boys in Britain go to college, government statistics show. Overall, British campuses are 56 percent female, and at 20 universities—and in once-male-dominated majors including medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, biology, and pre-law—women now outnumber men by two to one. A similar shift is happening in the United States, where in 1970 men made up 58 percent of college students, but today the proportions have reversed almost exactly, and 57 percent of enrolled students are women.
These changing gender proportions are vastly complicating efforts in both countries to increase the share of people who have college and university degrees—but the U.K. is doing more to address this than the U.S., which has fewer programs specifically designed to propel males of any race or income into college, or discourage them from dropping out.