As I’ve noted in this space before, family breakdown and fatherlessness seem to be particularly harmful to young men: affecting their character formation, their performance in school, and their economic mobility. Analysts such as Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute and David Autor and Melanie Wasserman of MIT have done important work illustrating the consequences. One of those consequences may be the growing gender gap in college attendance and completion.

Women now account for a significant majority of those enrolled in and graduating from America’s postsecondary institutions. A new study by scholars William Doherty and Jason Wilde of the University of Minnesota and Brian Willoughby of BYU finds (a) that there is “a strong positive association between nonmarital birth rates and the gender gap in college enrollment 18 years later,” and (b) that “males were at greater risk than females of not attending college if they had experienced father absence from birth.”

In short: “Changes in family structure may have contributed to the widening gender gap in higher education.”

Needless to say, this gender gap is more important — and more disturbing — than the “gender wage gap” that politicians, activists, and journalists are always complaining about (and about which they use misleading numbers). It offers a sobering reminder that the collapse of marriage in communities across America has been a social disaster.