Does it matter that men and women are making different choices about what to study at university asks insideMAN’s news editor, Glen Poole.
The current generation of teenagers is probably the most gender equal our country has ever known.
A university education is becoming progressively more accessible to larger numbers of boys and girls; the full time gender pay gap for men and women under forty is around zero and the introduction of shared parental leave will make it easier than ever before for mums and dads to balance work and family life more equally.
So why, when they go to university, are young men and women making such stereotypically gendered choices?
According to the latest figures from UCAS, women are still dominating courses like teaching, nursing and social work while men dominate engineering, building and computer sciences.
Have none of these students read the Guardian recently?
It seems that no matter how many women’s studies graduates or neuro-feminists universities produce to tell us that gender is all about nurture not nature, the sector is still incapable of creating an education system that nurtures more boys into nursing and more girls into engineering.
This isn’t a uniquely British phenomenon.
Even in Scandanavian countries where gender equality is a national obsession, there are key career paths which remain stubbornly dominated by either men or women. As the groundbreaking Norwegian documentary, Brainwashed, revealed in 2010, even in the most gender equal countries, there are certain sections of the labour market, like nursing and engineering, than remain “men’s work” and “women’s work”.
The standard feminist take on gender segregation in the world of careers, is that it’s all down to the way we’re conditioned. If only boys were allowed to play with dolls and Lego wasn’t so sexist, there would be equal numbers of 18 year olds signing up for nursing and engineering courses.
Spot the difference
As things stand, 90.9% of nursing students are female and 84.7% of young people studying engineering are male. Other courses dominated by women include education (88% female); social work (87.6%); animal science (84.3%) and Psychology (80.6%). Men, meanwhile, dominate building (84.7% male); computer science (84.3%) and technology (80.9%).
For those progressive liberals who believe that gender is created by social engineering, the persistent dominance of men in “proper” engineering is evidence of society’s deep-rooted sexism against women.
Ask these same people if the even greater dominance of women in nursing, teaching and social work is evidence of sexism against men and they’ll jump through hoops to claim these statistics as more evidence of sexism against women.
They’ll argue that the caring, nurturing professions are seen as “feminine” and therefore rejected by men, because men are misogynistic bastards who have been taught from birth that the worst thing you can be, is a big sissy girl.
Ask if this logic also means that women don’t go into engineering because of women’s sexism against men and you’ll end up back where you started. In the general worldview of left-leaning liberals, when women are under-represented it’s evidence of sexism against women and when men are under-represented, it’s even more evidence that the world is sexist against women.
At the other end of the nature versus nurture debate, you’ll find the types of social conservatives who dream of a less complicated world where 100% of nurses are women and 100% of engineers are men.
Somewhere inbetween these polarities, common sense seems to break out.
According to Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Essential Difference, the typical male brain is more systemising, while the typical female brain is more empathising and there are plenty of men and women along this spectrum who deviate from the norm.
Baron-Cohen’s work is often quoted by the traditionalist camp as proof that men are men and women are women and never the twain shall meet. This isn’t the professor’s view. He says:
“My own position is that biology and culture interact to create this sex difference. There are some people who would argue that its just biology or just culture but I think the moderate position is both are at work.”
Nature it seems, can help explain why most engineers are still from Mars and the majority of nurses are from Venus. And while we continue to waste time focusing on these polarities, we are ignoring the middle ground where there has been a huge influx of women into academic fields, previously dominated by men. According to UCAS, while more men and women are going to university than ever before, the gender gap in favour of female entrants has doubled from around 29,000 to 58,000 since 2006.
Mind the gap
At the same time, women have overtaken men in areas of study that were previously male dominated including law (64.9% female students); dentistry (64.1%); and medicine (55.7%). Women are also closing the gap in areas like business studies (45.2% female students); management studies (44.2%) and accounting (43%).
What does this mean for gender equality? Nobody knows because nobody has really bothered to ask. The latest figures reveal the female students entering university in 2014, outnumber men in two thirds of university courses.
Despite this fact, there remains a huge focus on promoting greater gender equality for women in higher education, without an equal and opposite push for equality for men, who are now in the minority. Of course we can also do more to make life better for Venus, but when it comes to education, we really need more focus on improving life for Mars.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men