Gender differences in HE

A perspective on the gender attendance differences in Higher Education

Recently, I have argued that the nature (exponential growth) and stability of the differential attendance growth (during the whole of the 20th century), has not been acknowledged in the present discussions. The stable, historical patterns, indicate that the gender differences will grow and present imbalances within HE during the decades to come. Given the current emphasis on good balance within the system, the emerging imbalanced pattern will turn out to be problematic. I claim to present a very simple story, by showing a remarkably stable, but differential exponential growth for males and females. I also maintain that the message implied by the pattern is important, - but one that most people seem to find very difficult to grasp.

Seminar in the JustEd group on Tuesday February 9th at Helsinki University: abstract

The Nature of the Gender Gap in Higher Education

The basis of the paper is the argument that the growth of Higher Education is most profitably described as exponential growth. Thus the notable gender difference is described by referring to the different growth coefficients of males and females, seen over long periods. Typically, the growth rate for women is higher than for men, irrespective of the absolute numbers, and whether they refer to attendance or graduation rates. Thus the gender gap is no longer dependent on which gender shows higher absolute numbers, but which has the higher growth rate. Thus the difference can be stable even at times when the difference in absolute numbers is changing, even being reversed. The gender patterns we refer to are fairly universal, but showing notable country differences. Using this perspective, it can be noted that these gender differences are remarkably stable over long periods. In the Nordic countries they reach far back into the 20th century and all the indications are that they will extend far into the 21st century, only being dampened by the gradual saturation of female attendance sometime near the middle of the century. This will mean a notable increase in the difference in the absolute numbers between females and males during the next two or three decades. A corollary of the perspective presented here is that there is no “old” or “new” gender difference as is sometimes thought when looking at the gender reversal in absolute numbers in most systems.
The discussion will also connect to the other Nordforsk, Education for to-morrow project on HE.