Why Are Chinese Women More Interested in Management Education Than American?

07/09/2012 01:29 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

Graduate management education seems to be losing the charm among American women as compared to sharp increase in interest among Chinese women, as seen from the number of GMAT test-takers report by GMAC.

The number of American women taking GMAT test decreased by by 2,775, from 48,510 to 45,735, from 2006-07 to 2010-11. In fact, it decreased by 6,317 from its peak in 2008-09. By contrast, number of female GMAT test-takers from China increased by nearly 18,000 in five years.

With more than 25,000 Chinese women taking GMAT in 2010-11, the group outstrips all segments among emerging BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) both in terms of percentage growth and absolute numbers of GMAT test-takers.

What could explain this pattern? It all boils down to economics of management education.

Graduate management education in general -- and MBA in specific -- is expensive. So, prospective students have to assess the cost-benefit of pursuing management education. (Read an earlier post comparing One-Year MBA with Two-Year)

Many Chinese women take GMAT for pursuing master's course in accounting or finance; in contrast, the majority of American women intend to pursue general MBA. Master's programs are usually of one-year duration, have a cheaper tuition rate and provide pathways for CPA licensing.

At the sociocultural level, single-child policy and norm of parents funding child's higher education, allows for higher availability of resources and affordability for management education. In contrast, American women are more independent and have to muster their own resources of debt and savings for further education.

In addition, economic environment also shapes the decision to pursue graduate management education. For example, American women have been facing turbulent job environment while Chinese women have been seeing growing career opportunities for foreign educated management professionals.

Does an MBA benefit more than its cost?

In an environment where master's degree is becoming the new bachelor's degree, overall value of management education will continue to offer differentiation and advantage in career progression; however, quality of program will become more and more important.

Several organizations like MBA Women International, Catalyst and Forté Foundation have been advocating, researching and advancing the agenda of increasing the proportion of women in business career and management education.

Interest for management education among American women seems to be declining; it is a trend that needs to get even more attention from corporates and B-schools to facilitate the transition of women in business.