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PISA Tracks Gender in the Labor Market

By Tiffani Razavi, TIE Staff Writer

A recent report from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) based on data collected in 2015 indicates that, although there is no gender difference in science assessment scores at 15, girls at that age are less likely than boys to see themselves in a science or engineering career. In fact, even in countries where girls significantly outperform boys at this stage—Finland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia—they still do not report any greater interest in pursuing science or engineering. According to PISA, this pattern of findings suggests that gender differences in career choice are not due to differences in ability or aptitude and are likely to begin well before tertiary education, influenced by persistent stereotypes, labor market outcomes, and the division of labor in society. In some countries, the report shows, stereotypes associated with gender and science have been overcome. For example, in Iceland, Indonesia, Poland, the Russian Federation, and the Slovak Republic, no statistically significant gender difference in career aspiration is found. Only in Poland is there a significant gender gap in performance. In general, whether one is male or female, a student’s choice of field of study is greatly affected by the gender division in the labor market, which then maintains and even increases the gap over time. For example, in the countries involved in PISA, the two fields of study that attract the most female students are education (78 percent) and health and welfare (76 percent), feeding into careers in teaching and nursing. With this sort of stark gender distribution in these particular fields of study, disparities in the labor market cannot be balanced. The report further notes that it is likely that in teaching they may be set to increase further. On the other end of the spectrum, engineering, manufacturing, and construction, along with information and communication technologies (ICT), attract high proportions of male students but are composed of only about 20 percent female students. Between these two extremes are a number of fields exhibiting gender balance, including business, administration and law, the natural sciences, mathematics, and statistics. The report notes that high employment rates for graduates of certain fields suggest high demand in the market. However, despite such demand, there is still a gender gap in employment across all fields, and it is most marked in the sciences. The report suggests that the larger gap in male-dominated fields reveals another obstacle in the path of women who choose these professions. Such factors may be shaping student career choices, deterring women with the aptitude and interest from pursuing careers in the sciences.

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