Education is essential to advancing human capital by enabling individuals to develop their knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Relatively high levels of education are often related to higher earnings and productivity, better career progression, health, life satisfaction as well as to better investments in education and health of future generations.
Figure E-1-1 presents five key indicators (in four panels) for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and selected emerging economies to illustrate “gender gaps” in participation, attainment, performance in education, as well as field of study. The gender gaps are defined as the difference in scores of men and women relative to the male score for indicators where men have the highest scores on average (i.e., Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] maths scores and the proportion of degrees awarded in mathematics and computer sciences), and the difference in scores between women and men relative to female scores when female scores are highest on average (i.e., enrollment in secondary education, proportion of adults with tertiary education and PISA reading scores). For example, Figure E-1-1, panels A and B show that in Australia, compared with boys, girls on average have a 5 percent disadvantage in secondary education enrollment, a 23 percent advantage in proportion of young adults with tertiary education, and a 7 percent advantage in PISA reading scores (i.e., secondary school enrollment of boys is 105 percent of that of girls, the proportion of young men attaining tertiary education is 77 percent of that of younger women, and PISA scores for boys is 93 percent of that of girls). Similarly, panels C and D of Figure E-1-1 show that Australian boys have a 2 percent advantage in PISA maths scores and a 72 percent advantage in the proportion of mathematics and computer science degrees awarded, compared with girls (i.e., girls’ PISA math scores are 98 percent of that of boys’, and the proportion of mathematics of computer science degrees awarded to women is 28 percent of the proportion awarded to men).
Gender gaps in participation levels can be gauged by looking at secondary gross enrollment rates (Figure E-1-1, Panel A). Among OECD countries there are no substantial gender gaps in secondary enrollment rates (mostly within 5 percent) except for Turkey, where women have a strong disadvantage. On the other hand, tertiary attainment levels are higher for girls than for boys in most OECD countries (Figure E-1-1, Panel A), and in Finland, Portugal and Slovenia, young women are much more likely to participate in tertiary education than young men (i.e., a gender gap larger than 40 percent). Only in Mexico, Switzerland, and Turkey is the
1 Abstract from Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship Meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Council at Ministerial Level— Paris, 25-26 May 2011.
2 Angelica Salvi Del Pero, administrator (Gender) Social Policy Division, Directorate for Employment, Labor and Social Affairs, OECD.
share of adults with tertiary education significantly higher among men than women (i.e., a gender gap smaller than -10 percent), and in Chile there is only a very slight advantage of men over women (gender gap -1 percent).
The remaining three panels of Figure E-1-1 show that in OECD countries the main gender differences in education relate to performance and preferences across field of study. Gender differences in cognitive skills among adolescents are shown in Figure E-1-1, Panel B and C. At age 15, girls outperform boys in reading in all countries; boys, on the other hand, perform better than girls in mathematics in most countries but there are a few countries (Finland, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and Sweden) where the gender gap is small (less than 5%). In terms of science, there are no substantial differences in performance.
The largest gender differences, on average, are observed in the chosen field of study in tertiary education (Figure E-1-1, Panel D). The positive gap in the proportion of degrees awarded in mathematics and computer science implies that, in all OECD countries, men account for the majority of degrees awarded in these subjects; women in turn account for the vast majority of graduates in the arts and humanities. Differences in the gender composition of graduates in mathematics and computer sciences are large in all countries but they are particularly pronounced (i.e., above 80 percent) in Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Furthermore, gender gaps in the proportion of tertiary degrees awarded in mathematics and computer sciences are much larger than the gender gaps in performance at age 15 in performance in mathematics (respectively 64 percent and 2 percent on average in the OECD).
A full assessment of gender inequality in education for emerging economies according to the selected indicators is only possible in Brazil, but information is available for most indicators for Indonesia and the Russian Federation. There is little gender inequality in participation in secondary education in Indonesia and the Russian Federation while there are large gaps in Brazil to the advantage of girls (10 percent) and in India to the advantage of boys (-14 percent). Tertiary education attainment rates of young women exceed those of men in the Russian Federation and in Brazil, with gender gaps of 20 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
In emerging economies, the performance of boys and girls in the different subjects at the secondary level mirrors the trends observed in most OECD countries: in Brazil, Indonesia, and the Russian Federation girls do significantly better in reading while boys score marginally better in mathematics. In Brazil, as in OECD countries, considerably more young men than women choose mathematics and computer science courses (gender gap of 71 percent), while the opposite is true in Indonesia.3
While educational outcomes vary across and within countries, there is no one country that consistently has large gender gaps (with an advantage to either men or women) or a near gender parity across all indicators.4 Across the OECD, even for countries such as Austria, Chile, Germany, Korea, and United Kingdom, where the gender gap is less than 10 percent in absolute
3 The reasons behind the inversed gap in Indonesia will have to be explored further: While these United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization data are slightly different than the data for most countries in the table, insofar as they do not include postgraduate degrees, this inconsistency is not likely to explain the gap reversal.
4 These gender gaps as well as the levels for boys and girls are presented in the Annex to Chapter 1 in “Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level—Paris, 25-26 May 2011,” where they are compared to the OECD average to categorized countries in “above” or “below” groups if they are at least half a standard deviation above or below the OECD average.
value for four of the five indicators, the gap in degrees awarded in mathematics and computer science is still high.
On the whole, gender gaps in educational outcomes differ between advanced economies and developing countries. In the former, girls perform better than boys, whereas they lag behind in the latter. In advanced economies, coming from a disadvantaged socio-economic background has a larger negative effect for male students while in developing countries the negative effect is larger for girls.
FIGURE E-1-1. Panel A. Secondary Enrollment Rate and Tertiary Attainment — Male Gap to Female (in Percentages)
FIGURE E-1-1. Panel D. Degrees Awarded in Mathematics and Computer Science—Female Gap to Male (in percentages)
NOTE: Male to female gaps are defined as (female-male)/female; female to male gaps are defined as (male-female)/male.
SOURCE: Table A1.1, in the Annex to Chapter 1 in “Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level—Paris, 25-26 May 2011.”