The Gender Education Gap

Writing about the so called ‘gender pay gap’ annoys me. It annoys me first of all because it is an incorrect premise that seems to have taken on dogmatic significance over the past few years, not helped by President Obama referencing it in one of his speeches. Secondly it is infuriating because it masks a much greater issue for our society, and ignores other facts relating to it. In this case i mean the differences in education for the genders.

To quick address the pay gap issue. There is a figure that is used of women getting paid 77% of what men do, whether this is referred to as ‘cents on the dollar’ or not is irrelevant at this point. This figure is arrived at by totalling up the amount of money earned by both sexes and then doing an average. This ignores any factors such as hours worked, industry worked in, experience, negotiating contracts, taking time off work, overtime etc. The dogmatic phrase ‘for the same work’ has been added to the 77% figure regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to back this up.

By not taking into account the other factors that make up these figures is to do a disservice to your cause. If you want to understand why there is less money being made by the female of the species then you have to understand where the actual problem lies. There are flippant retorts to these figures that are thrown around. How many times have you heard ‘if that was the case then no one would ever hire a man’ for example. Those phrases are boring and overused now and almost as annoying as the issue that they are addressing.

What needs to be considered is the level of education. The careers and positions that women and men tend to go into and operate in. without addressing this then there can be no understanding of where the gap comes from, if that is indeed what you are trying to do.

In 2016 a review of the education system found the following:

In UK universities “women outnumbered men in 112 out of 180 subjects, while men were ahead in 65 and there was equal representation in three.”

The biggest gap is in nursing, where women outnumber men by nine to one, with 22,285 more female students than male. Psychology has the second biggest gender divide, followed by social work, education and design. Women are also ahead in areas such as history, philosophy, English, law and biology.

Among the subjects with more men, the biggest gap is in computer science, which has 13,085 more male students than female, followed by mechanical engineering, sports science, electrical engineering and economics.

Without having to look too much further we can see from these figures that there is a reason for the pay gap. The subjects that are most studied by men tend to be those that are currently valued most highly by society, computer science, engineering, economics and anything to do with sports. The fact that this is where most men tend to be drawn towards is why there is more money going to men. The subjects that are more attractive on the whole to women, people related occupations and subjects, do not pay as well.

That is not to say that one is more important than the other, just that on the whole more people are drawn to one subject or another and a certain set happen to offer more money. Focusing on money however further hides another issue. That of education in general.

Curnock Cook (representative of Ucas) said: “Girls are doing better throughout primary, secondary and higher education than boys; poor, white boys are the most disadvantaged group in entry to higher education and the gap is getting bigger. But despite the clear evidence and despite the press coverage, there is a deafening policy silence on the issue. Has the women’s movement now become so normalised that we cannot conceive of needing to take positive action to secure equal education outcomes for boys?”

I can hear the gasp of horror from here, how can white males be the most disadvantaged group when it comes to education, aren’t they the ones with all of the privilege? This is the danger of following rhetoric from the internet and not looking at statistics. to briefly go over another issue privilege is nothing to do with race and more to do with class, but if we separate ourselves into other groups then no one thinks of class at all, therefore there is no revolution against those in charge, apparently the rich learned well from that little issue in France.

According to The Higher Education Policy Institute a baby girl born in 2016 is 75% more likely to go to university than a boy born at the same time. Yet there has been no action taken, no public outcry and no political scandal as a result. It is little wonder why there are so many men ‘checking out’ when they are under performing and various aspects of life while at the same time being told that they are oppressing other people, genders, races etc.

Research conducted by the Universities of Glasgow and Missouri found that girls outperform boys in mathematics, reading and science literacy in 70 per cent of countries, regardless of levels of national gender equality. Clearly there is something going on here that is gender specific and not simply limited to class, race or any other factor. Yet as we have seen there is very little being done to combat this issue.

A global study from the OECD, based on more than 60 countries, has thrown up some very interesting challenges to generalisations about girls always doing better than boys. First of all, it suggests that school systems give greater rewards to girls rather than boys, even when pupils are of similar ability. Teachers are more likely to “mark up” girls’ work, says the study. It suggests that this leniency in marking is an unacknowledged reward for girls being more school-friendly. Girls are more likely to be better behaved, more likely to get homework finished, less negative about going to school. And even when boys’ work is just as good, the higher grade is more likely to go to a girl.

So if there is something here that shows that girls are ‘better behaved’ at school is this something that needs to be addressed, is there a reason why schools are more geared to the learning style of girls over boys? Is there perhaps some research that should be done or implemented to find out how boys learn and perhaps have them taught in different ways? I wouldn’t have thought so, that would take too much effort and then we would have to admit that there was a problem. Plus they’re only boys right?

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