When economist Lela Pratt began teaching at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the 1970s, most of the students in her business classes were men.
"In the 1950s and '60s, people even talked about many women going to college just to find a husband and get their 'Mrs.' degree," she said. "Even in the 1970s, most of the students in business or engineering programs were men."
But for at least the past decade, a majority of students in Pratt's and other UTC courses have been women.
A report released Tuesday by the Ochs Center of Metropolitan Studies highlights the gender reversal in college graduation over the past two generations.
According to U.S. Census data, the share of women earning college degrees in Hamilton County has more than doubled in the past 40 years while male graduation rates have remained fairly stable.
Among Chattanoogans of retirement age, men are twice as likely to have a college degree compared with women, the report shows. But for those age 34 and younger, women are 13 percent more likely to have a college degree than their male counterparts in Hamilton County.
"The gender gap has not only closed over time, it has flipped," Ochs Center President David Eichenthal said Tuesday. "Today, women are more likely to have a college degree than men, and that is becoming increasingly important as college attainment becomes critical for landing the jobs of today."
In the Chattanooga Region Economy report released Tuesday, the Ochs Center reported that the biggest job losses in the past decade have been in traditionally male-dominated jobs in factories, construction and transportation. By contrast, jobs in more female-dominated professions such as health care, food services and teaching have grown in the past decade, the report shows.
That job shift has created what some economists label a "mancession," with men losing jobs more than twice as often as women since 2007.
"This recession has hit men much harder than women," Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said.
Men still fill 54 percent of all jobs in the Chattanooga area and national wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that men in full-time jobs earn an average of about 20 percent more than the typical female worker.
Men also still dominate the corner offices of Chattanooga's biggest businesses. Among the 123 Chattanooga area employers with more than 100 workers, only five of those businesses or government agencies were headed by a woman, according to the most recent data available from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Women are moving into positions, and they are setting themselves up to come into the higher-ranking positions but, for the most part, they are not there yet," Pratt said. "Most of the people heading corporations today are people that got their degrees in the 1950s and '60s when you still had that disparity in education."
With record high enrollments this fall, 61 percent of the students at Chattanooga State Community College are women and 53.5 percent of the students at UTC are women. Last year, 55 percent of students at UTC were women.
The number of female graduates from four-year colleges has exceeded men graduation levels since 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
"The jobs that are growing involve more brain than brawn, so over time I think you will see a real change in the gender of who leads many organizations," Pratt said.
Read earlier stories on Ochs Center studies