According to Statistics Canada, the ratio of men to women in Canadian universities has changed drastically in the last 40 years. In 1971, just under 70% of graduates were male. In 2006, women now hold the majority at 60%. So, what is the cause of this significant change? Is it over-compensation? A change in the way females are viewed in education? Are boys being pushed in a different direction? Or is it a combination of many things?
While it has always been clear to me that the ‘real world’ of business is highly androcentric, I have always associated the world of education and teaching with women. There are far more female teachers than male teachers in primary schools in Canada and while it is not as distinct, more female teachers in high schools as well. My own primary schools’ teaching staffs are currently 84% and 90% female, my high school’s teaching staff is 72% female.
We’ve talked extensively about the social construction of roles and how they affect the decisions we make. It is quite clear that the role of teacher—nurturing children, shaping their minds, providing knowledge, rewarding and punishing behaviour—is seen as a distinctly ‘motherly’ or ‘feminine’ task. If children look towards same-sex adults for guidance on life choices, then it is clear that boys are not getting the same guidance that girls are, with few, if any, male teachers to look to for advice or role modelling. Additionally, there is a clear cycle of bad behaviour and reinforcement that can create ‘well-behaved, studious girls’ and ‘rowdy, messy, troublesome boys’ that will strongly affect these children down the road. But these ideas don’t necessarily explain why there have been recent changes in the male to female ratio in education after high school, or what the consequences might be.
The situation in Australia is very similar, with 60% of graduates across the country being female. In an article in The Age, Andrew Norton said it is “[o]bviously a revolution in the expectations of women, and what is expected of women [that] is a fundamental driver of the increase in female higher education attainment.” In the last 40-50 years, the second wave of feminism has sought changes in social and organizational inequalities between men and women. Since then, in many ways, women have succeeded. In other ways, there is still much progress to be made.
In the same article for The Age, it is mentioned that ‘traditionally female occupations’ have moved from apprenticeship or college prerequisites to university prerequisites. In other words, jobs in the education and health care fields now require a university degree, thus, at least partially, explaining this increased number of women in university. So, there are no stereotype-shattering actions being taken here: in fact, quite the opposite. Women now need university qualifications to go into the same female-dominated fields (teaching, nursing, social work); they are spending more of their money and time to achieve higher certification for the exact same job with the exact same pay. Adding insult to injury, there is also some evidence of the ‘glass escalator’ that allows men who choose female-dominated fields to rise higher and faster than the women around them.
Coming back to social construction of roles, it is clear that women are sticking to ‘female-appropriate’ jobs. Nursing, social work, administration, and especially teaching are all stereotypically female occupations with extremely high numbers of women, as compared to men. Other occupations like those in management or trades are distinctly male-dominated. The following information is taken from StatCan from the 2006 Census:
- Management occupations:
- Male: 1,032,940
- Female: 598,790
- Business, finance, administration occupations:
- Male: 863,420
- Female: 2,162,005
- Natural or applied sciences and related occupations:
- Male: 865,825
- Female: 242,225
- Health occupations:
- Male: 188,850
- Female: 761,515
- Trade, transport, and equipment operators:
- Male: 2,374,605
As demonstrated by these numbers, there is obviously a very strong association with what is a ‘man’s job’ and what is a ‘woman’s job’, and people are choosing their career paths based upon those associations.
Women are viewing the large numbers of women in universities as a victory for female equality. But in reality, women have not accomplished anything exciting: females are in the same jobs, being paid the same, but having to pay more to get there in the first place. It feels like a step in the right direction, but if you look closer, it isn’t really a step at all.