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Context Matters: Differential Gendering of Physics in Arabic-speaking, Hebrew-speaking, and Single-Sex State Schools in Israel

Abstract

Although physics is one of the most male-dominated educational fields in Europe and North America, this is not the case in all parts of the world. The present study investigates contextual variability in the physics gender gap by leveraging unique characteristics of the Israeli state educational system, including its highly standardized national curriculum and its distinct school sectors that differ on key analytical dimensions. First, comparison of schools serving different sociocultural groups reveals strong overrepresentation of boys in advanced physics courses in the Hebrew-speaking but not the Arabic-speaking school sector. This pattern aligns with previous cross-national studies showing more gender-integration of STEM fields in contexts characterized by more socioeconomic precarity and in Muslim-majority societies. Second, comparison of advanced physics course-taking between coeducational and single-sex schools provides no support for claims about the degendering effects of single-sex education. Results are consistent with accounts that treat educational gender segregation as the product of contextually contingent sorting processes rather than stable characteristics of boy and girl students. Initiatives aimed at addressing the gender gap in STEM fields must be calibrated to the diverse sociocultural contexts in which these sorting processes unfold.

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Acknowledgements

Authors are listed in alphabetical order to denote their equal contribution to this paper. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the European Educational Research Association conference held (online) in Geneva in September 2021. The authors wish to thank Eyal Bar-Haim for methodological assistance, anonymous reviewers and editors for helpful comments, and BGU graduate students Gila Manevich Malul, Dalal Assadi, and Nusiba Abo Riash for important contributions to the larger comparative project supporting this study.

Funding

This study was funded by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) (grant number 2018156).

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Correspondence to Yariv Feniger.

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Blank, C., Charles, M., Feniger, Y. et al. Context Matters: Differential Gendering of Physics in Arabic-speaking, Hebrew-speaking, and Single-Sex State Schools in Israel. Sex Roles 86, 620–633 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-022-01292-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-022-01292-3

Keywords

  • Gender
  • STEM
  • Education
  • Physics
  • Single-sex Schooling
  • Israel