33 SES 10 A, Gender Inequality in Higher Education
Despite the growing number of women in higher education (HE), we are still witnessing gender imbalance across HE fields. Barone (2011:158) argues that gender differences are patterned along the traditional “humanistic-science” and a new “care-technical” divide. Researchers explain these divides with various factors such as cultural gender beliefs, structural features of education systems, including HE institutional structure and class differences (Barone, 2011; Charles and Bradley, 2009). Reimer and Pollak (2010) point out that fields of studies can be considered as horizontal axis of stratification because they differ in terms of prestige and economic rewards. Accordingly, in the course of the educational expansion horizontal differentiation can serve as a channel for advantaged groups to maintain their privileged social status by choosing prestigious study fields. From the perspective of our presentation it is important to note that the internal HE institutional structure can maintain and generate gender differences, i.e. (re)produce horizontal gender and social differentiation within HE, resulting in “masculine” and “feminine” study fields (Houtte, 2015).
Although the overrepresentation of men in study fields leading to prestigious and financially attractive occupations (e.g. STEM) contributes to gender inequalities, this relationship is not direct. It is mediated by different individual traits and social categories, particularly by social class background (cultural, economic and social resources) of students. For instance, Swedish working-class and intermediate class women increased their enrolment in HE, while upper middle-class women increased their involvement in prestigious, male dominated study programmes (Berggern, 2008).
As in other countries, HE in Croatia is also gendered. Women are most represented in humanities (70.9%) and social sciences (66.1%), and least in engineering (27.5%) (Croatian Bureau of Statistics, 2020). Studies conducted in Croatia (Baranovic, 2011; Jugovic, 2016) confirm the gender divide at both secondary and higher education levels. A significant feature of educational institutions is also their differentiation according to the social background of students. At secondary education level, students with higher cultural capital and socio-economic status are more likely to attend gymnasiums, elite schools whose role is to prepare students for university education (Baranovic, 2015). Accordingly, students who attend gymnasiums, have higher cultural, economic and social capital most often decide to continue education at university level (Kosutic et al., 2015).
Our presentation is focused on students at the University of Zagreb with a goal to examine gender differentiation across the study fields in connection with students’ cultural, economic and social capital. We draw on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural and social reproduction (1997) expanded by a gender perspective that has proven to be a fruitful theoretical approach in exploring gender differences in education (Seehuus, 2019; Loveday, 2015).
The following questions will be addressed in the presentation: 1. How are female and male students distributed across the fields of study? 2. In which study fields are females most represented, and in which males? 3. What is the social structure of male and female students (according to cultural, economic and social capital) by the field of study?
Based on previous research, we expect gendered differentiation by study fields with a higher representation of females in typically female fields (e.g. social sciences) and males in typically male fields (e.g. technical field).
We also hypothesise that gender differentiation according to study field will be affected by students’ social background. In this context we assume: a) that females with lower cultural, economic and social capital will, compared to males, prevail in study fields leading to less prestigious and economically rewarded occupations (e.g. education); b) that females with higher capitals will attend socially and economically attractive fields (STEM) more often than females with lower social status.
The research was conducted by using the mixed methods research design. Quantitative research was carried out in 2017 on a sample of 1533 students attending the second and third year of study at 12 faculties of the University of Zagreb - the oldest and largest university in Croatia. The chosen faculties were typical for every of the six study fields (technical, biotechnical, health care, science and mathematics, social sciences and humanities). The questionnaire was completed by students at their faculties after the consent of deans and students was obtained. The survey was anonymous. Of the total number of students, 65% were women, 18.5% were from the technical field, 11.7 % from the biotechnical field, 17.0% from health care, 7.2% from the field of science and mathematics, 33.0% from social sciences and 12.0% from the field of humanities. Besides sociodemographic variables, the questionnaire contained the following items/scales: high school GPA, indicators of cultural capital (student cultural practices, number of books at home, student reading practices, student extracurricular activities, mother’s and father’s educational level and cultural practices), indicators of economic capital (monthly household income, family’s financial status, mother’s and father’s employment status) and indicators of social capital (students consulting about educational decisions with broader family members/close people/experts and students estimate on having influential parents). Qualitative research (interviews with students) was conducted with the intention to gain a deeper insight into the way of how female and male students made the decision to study in the field they have chosen, their interest in the chosen field of study, their study experience, satisfaction with the study and their career plans. The interviews were carried out in 2018 with 28 students from 6 faculties of the University of Zagreb in the following study fields: social sciences and humanities (10 students), science and mathematics (5 students), technical field (3 students), biotechnical field (5 students) and health (5 students). 18 interviewees were females and 10 males. We compared the shares of women and men across the study fields with chi-squared test. Multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted on the whole sample as well as on female and male data separately to test the effects of GPA and capitals on attending different study fields. The interview transcripts were analysed using Miles and Huberman's (1994) framework.
In line with our expectations, females are overrepresented in social science field and health field while males are overrepresented in technical and biotechnical fields. The findings of the multinomial logistic regression analyses indicate differences between profiles of female and male students across study fields. For example, female students who study in technical field more often have mothers with faculty degree and were more likely to consult experts when choosing study field than their female counterparts who study in the referent field of social studies. This finding indicates that some components of cultural and social capital are related to women’s entrance into “male study field”. On the other hand, male students in technical field had fewer books, read less frequently and were less inclined to consult other people when choosing study field than their male counterparts from social science field. However, these and other findings do not fully confirm the assumption of positive relationships between cultural, economic and social capital on one side and attending of prestigious and economically attractive study fields on the other. This holds for both female and male students. A preliminary analysis of the students’ interviews indicates that males, compared to females, are more concerned with the prestige of the study field they enrolled in. They are also more inclined to continue education at doctoral level than females. Even when females reported that they wanted to continue their education after graduation, taking care of their future family and children was mentioned as an obstacle. For both males and females, the most important reason for attending the chosen study course was their interest in the subject of study.
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