Advertisement

Gender segregation in higher education: an empirical test of seven explanations

  • Carlo Barone
  • Giulia AssirelliEmail author
Article

Abstract

Gender segregation in higher education (GSHE) is recognized as a key factor to explain the persistence of gender inequalities in the labor market despite the reversal of gender gap in educational attainment. Women are systematically overrepresented in fields of study, such as social sciences and the humanities, which offer relatively poor labor market prospects; at the same time, they are underrepresented in fields that perform above the average, as engineering and ICT. Several explanations for GSHE have been proposed in the literature, but their explanatory power has to be assessed yet. Using a rich longitudinal dataset on a recent cohort of Italian upper secondary school leavers, in this paper we jointly test seven potential mechanisms for GSHE. Our results show that rational choice explanations—such as skill-based explanations and gender differences in career preferences—fail to account for GSHE. On the contrary, expressive motivations related to preferences for school subjects and for specific occupations are found to mediate to a significant extent GSHE. However, our most important result concerns the key role of curricular track choice at upper secondary level which, alone, mediates two third of the gender difference in access to the humanities and social sciences and one third of the gender difference in access to engineering and ICT.

Keywords

Gender segregation Higher education Field of study choice 

Notes

Supplementary material

10734_2019_396_MOESM1_ESM.docx (199 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 199 kb)

References

  1. Aastrup, W. (Ed.). (2007). Guidance and counselling in higher education in European Union member states. Aarhus: Narayana Press.Google Scholar
  2. Almalaurea (2015). XVII Indagine sulla Condizione Occupazionale dei Laureati. Bologna: Consorzio Interuniversitario Almalaurea.Google Scholar
  3. Alon, S., & DiPrete, T. A. (2017). Gender differences in the formation of a field of study choice set. Sociological Science, 2, 50–81.Google Scholar
  4. Anvur. (2016). Rapporto sullo Stato del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca. Roma: Anvur.Google Scholar
  5. Argentin, G., & Triventi, M. (2016). Come mi giudichi? Analisi delle pratiche e degli standard di attribuzione dei voti agli studenti nelle scuole italiane. In P. Falzetti (Ed.), Concorso idee per la ricerca. Padova: Cleup.Google Scholar
  6. Assirelli, G. (2015). Credential and skill mismatches among tertiary graduates: the effect of labour market institutions on the differences between fields of study in 18 countries. European Societies, 17(4), 535–568.Google Scholar
  7. Barone, C. (2011). Some things never change: gender segregation in higher education across eight nations and three decades. Sociology of Education, 84(2), 157–176.Google Scholar
  8. Barone, C., & Ortiz, L. (2011). Overeducation among European university graduates: a comparative analysis of its incidence and the importance of higher education differentiation. Higher Education, 61(3), 325–337.Google Scholar
  9. Barone, C., Schizzerotto, A., Abbiati, G., & Argentin, G. (2017). Information barriers, social inequality, and plans for higher education: evidence from a field experiment. European Sociological Review, 33(1), 84–96.Google Scholar
  10. Bobbitt-Zeher, D. (2007). The gender income gap and the role of education. Sociology of Education, 80(1), 1–22.Google Scholar
  11. Breen, R., Karlson, K. B., & Holm, A. (2013). Total, direct, and indirect effects in logit and probit models. Sociological Methods & Research, 42(2), 164-191.Google Scholar
  12. Buchmann, C., DiPrete, T. A., & McDaniel, A. (2008). Gender inequalities in education. Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), 319–337.Google Scholar
  13. Cattaneo, M., Horta, H., Malighetti, P., Meoli, M., & Paleari, S. (2017). Effects of the financial crisis on university choice by gender. Higher Education, 74(5), 775–798.Google Scholar
  14. Cavalli, A., & Facchini, C. (2001). Scelte cruciali. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  15. Cech, E. (2013). The self-expressive edge of occupational sex segregation. American Journal of Sociology, 119(3), 747–789.Google Scholar
  16. Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2010). Sex differences in math-intensive fields. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1(5), 11–23.Google Scholar
  17. Charles, M., & Bradley, K. (2002). Equal but separate? A cross-national study of sex segregation in higher education. American Sociological Review, 67(4), 573–599.Google Scholar
  18. Charles, M., & Bradley, K. (2009). Indulging our gendered selves? Sex segregation by field of study in 44 countries. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 924–976.Google Scholar
  19. Charles, M., & Grusky, D. B. (2004). Occupational ghettos. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Correll, S. J. (2004). Constraints into preferences: gender, status and emerging career aspirations. American Sociological Review, 69(1), 93–113.Google Scholar
  21. Davies, S., & Guppy, N. (1997). Fields of study, college selectivity, and student inequalities in higher education. Social Forces, 75(4), 1417–1438.Google Scholar
  22. De Giorgi, G., Pellizzari, M., & Redaelli, S. (2010). Identification of social interactions through partially overlapping peer groups. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2, 241–275.Google Scholar
  23. DiPrete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2013). The rise of women: the growing gender gap in education and what it means for American schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  24. Ellison, G., & Swanson, A. (2010). The gender gap in secondary school mathematics at high achievement levels: evidence from the American mathematics competitions. Journal of Economic Perspective, 24(2), 109–128.Google Scholar
  25. England, P., & Li, S. (2006). Desegregation stalled: the changing gender composition of college majors, 1971–2002. Gender & Society, 20(5), 657–677.Google Scholar
  26. Frank, K. A., Muller, C., Schiller, K. S., Riegle-Crumb, C., Mueller, A. S., Crosnoe, R., & Pearson, J. (2008). The social dynamics of mathematics course-taking in high school. American Journal of Sociology, 113(6), 1645–1696.Google Scholar
  27. Gabay-Egozi, L., Shavit, Y., & Yaish, M. (2015). Gender differences in fields of study: the role of significant others and rational choice motivations. European Sociological Review, 31(3), 284–297.Google Scholar
  28. Garcia-Aracil, A., Gabaldon, D., Gines Mora, J., & Vila, L. (2007). The relationship between life goals and fields of study among young European graduates. Higher Education, 53(6), 843–865.Google Scholar
  29. Gerber, T. P., & Schaefer, D. R. (2004). Horizontal stratification of higher education in Russia: trends, gender differences, and labour market outcomes. Sociology of Education, 77(1), 32–59.Google Scholar
  30. Gunderson, E. A. (2012). The role of parents and teachers in the development of gender-related math attitudes. Sex Roles, 66, 153–166.Google Scholar
  31. Hedges, L. V., & Nowell, A. (1995). Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals. Science, 269(5220), 41–45.Google Scholar
  32. Imdorf, C., Hegna, K., Eberhard, V., & Doray, P. (2015). Educational systems and gender segregation in education—a three-country comparison of Germany, Norway & Canada. In C. Imdorf, K. Hegna, & L. Reisel (Eds.), Gender segregation in vocational education (Vol. 32, pp. 83–122). Bingley: Emerald Insight.Google Scholar
  33. Invalsi (2017). Rilevazioni Nazionali degli Apprendimenti—2016, http://www.invalsi.it/invalsi/doc_evidenza/2016/07_Rapporto_Prove_INVALSI_2016.pdf
  34. Jacobs, J. A. (1995). Gender and academic specialties: trend among recipients of college degrees in the 1980s. Sociology of Education, 68(2), 81–98.Google Scholar
  35. Jonsson, J. O. (1999). Explaining sex differences in educational choice: an empirical assessment of a rational choice model. European Sociological Review, 15(4), 391–404.Google Scholar
  36. Konrad, A. M., Ritchie, J. E., Jr., Lieb, P., & Corrigall, E. (2000). Sex differences and similarities in job attribute preferences: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 126(4), 593–641.Google Scholar
  37. Legewie, J., & DiPrete, T. A. (2012). School context and the gender gap in educational achievement. American Sociological Review, 77(3), 463–485.Google Scholar
  38. Legewie, J., & DiPrete, T. A. (2014). The high school environment and the gender gap in science and engineering. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 259–280.Google Scholar
  39. Mann, A., & DiPrete, T. A. (2013). Trends in gender segregation in the choice of science and engineering majors. Social Science Research, 42(6), 1519–1541.Google Scholar
  40. Mastekaasa, A., & Smeby, J. (2008). Educational choice and persistence in male- and female-dominated fields source. Higher Education, 55(2), 189–202.Google Scholar
  41. Menon, M. E., Markadjis, E., Theodoropoulos, N., & Socratous, M. (2017). Influences on the intention to enter higher education: the importance of expected returns. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(6), 831–843.Google Scholar
  42. Morgan, S. L., Gelbgiser, D., & Weeden, K. A. (2013). Feeding the pipeline: gender, occupational plans, and college major selection. Social Science Research, 42(4), 989–1005.Google Scholar
  43. Nunez, I., & Livanos, I. (2010). Higher education and unemployment in Europe: an analysis of the academic subject and national effects. Higher Education, 59(4), 475–487.Google Scholar
  44. OECD. (2014). The ABC of gender equality in education. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  45. OECD. (2016). Education at a glance—2016 edition. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  46. Ost, B. (2010). The role of peers and grades in determining major persistence in the sciences. Economics of Education Review, 29, 923–934.Google Scholar
  47. Polachek, S. W. (1978). Sex differences in college major. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 31, 498–508.Google Scholar
  48. Reimer, D., Noelke, C., & Kucel, A. (2011). Labor market effects of field of study in comparative perspective: an analysis of 22 European countries. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4), 232–256.Google Scholar
  49. Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., Grodsky, E., & Muller, C. (2012). The more things change, the more they stay the same? Prior achievements fails to explain gender inequality in entry into STEM college majors over time. American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1048-1073.Google Scholar
  50. Smyth, E., & Steinmetz, S. (2008). Field of study and gender segregation in European labour markets. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 49(4), 257–281.Google Scholar
  51. Timmers, T., Willemsen, T., & Tijdens, K. (2010). Gender diversity policies in universities: a multi-perspective framework of policy measures. Higher Education, 59(6), 719–735.Google Scholar
  52. Triventi, M. (2010). Something changes, something not. Long-term trends in gender segregation of fields of study in Italy. Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 5(2), 47–80.Google Scholar
  53. Vaarmets, T. (2018). Gender, academic abilities and postsecondary educational choices. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 10(3), 380–398.Google Scholar
  54. van de Werfhorst, H. G. (2017). Gender segregation across fields of study in post-secondary education: trends and social differentials. European Sociological Review, 33(3), 449–464.Google Scholar
  55. van de Werfhorst, H. G., Sullivan, A., & Cheung, S. Y. (2003). Social class, ability and choice of subject in secondary and tertiary education in Britain. British Educational Research Journal, 29(1), 41–62.Google Scholar
  56. Xie, Y., & Shauman, K. A. (2005). Women in science: career processes and outcomes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Zafar, B. (2013). College major choice and the gender gap. Journal of Human Resources, 48(3), 545–595.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sciences PoParisFrance
  2. 2.Indipendent researcherMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations