If X, then Y the gender gap?

Increased female university enrollment not translated to gender equity in the workplace, professor says

A group of first-year girls have dinner at Ban Righ Cafeteria. According to the University registrar, 60.1 per cent of the Queen’s class of 2013 is female.
A group of first-year girls have dinner at Ban Righ Cafeteria. According to the University registrar, 60.1 per cent of the Queen’s class of 2013 is female.

It’s no secret women outnumber men at the university level in Canada, and Queen’s is no exception. A quick walk around campus will show this fact, and the statistics will back it up.

While there’s been a surge in university enrollment in the last three decades, the rate at which females are entering the academic sphere is significantly higher than men. According to a 2006 University of Guelph study, female university enrollment in Canada increased by 158.3 per cent between 1977 and 2003, compared to an increase of 81.3 per cent, among males Statistics released by the University registrar show the incoming class of 2013 to be 60.1 per cent female, with Commerce and Applied Science the only two faculties with more men than women.

In contrast, the class of 1980 was gender neutral, with women making up 49.9 per cent of that year’s population.

Gender studies Professor Susan Wilcox, who specializes in adult and higher education, said the rise in female university attendance can be largely attributed to the sexual emancipation of women.

“It used to be that women used to say, ‘Why bother going to university? I’m just going to get married and have children,’” she said. “There’s now birth control, so they are not necessarily having children when they’re young, so that means that can not only go to university when they’re young, they can have a career when they’re young.”

Wilcox, who’s cross-appointed with the Faculty of Education, said female dominance in post-secondary education hasn’t translated into equal opportunity in the workforce.

“This isn’t translating into higher earnings, career opportunities for women,” she said. “There’s no doubt about it, women’s earnings are still lower than men. I think in Ontario, the rate’s now is at 71 cents for every dollar men make.”

Wilcox said more women feel pressure to go to university in order to advance themselves than men because men generally don’t feel as though they need a degree in order to contribute to society.

“For men and women—aside from a general education, the goal of university is to increase your earning power,” she said. “I continue to think that most women need that undergraduate education in order to participate. Even if you want to be admin assistant, you need an undergraduate education, if you’re a woman.”

Wilcox said men often see university as one of many options they can pursue after high school.

“They haven’t had to have a university education in order to have good earnings,” she said. “There’s not as much of an incentive for them to go to university, because they can earn well without a university education, so far.”

Wilcox said many young women don’t see any choice but to go to university.

“Girls still do not recognize the extent that they can make choices, they don’t even recognize that they can choose to go or not to go,” she said. “Women have the right to choice, but they don’t always recognize it at a young age. The choice, is still in a sense, made for them. Boys at a younger age recognize that the choice is theirs.”

She said the gender disparity at the university level might have future effects in the workforce for both sexes.

Wilcox said on the other-hand, the men who have graduated from university would find their degrees holding more value to employers due to their rare nature.

“I think that those men who do continue to university will be highly privileged.”

Wilcox said women are actually more academically inclined than men.

“Boys are more likely to have behavioural problems, they are more impatient, so to settle into school it’s easier for girls. So, girls tend to do better in primary and secondary school, but we don’t really see the evidence of that until we get to university,” she said. “Girls and boys have different rates of development, and many of those boys who have had behaviourial problem aren’t quite ready to go to university and they don’t see the reason is to go to university.”

Wilcox said it’s time for Canadian universities to address the lack of males entering academia.

“We can’t assume anymore that boys are just going to go to university. We did things to attract and encourage women to go, so we can do that for boys and men as well,” she said. “The sad part is that in a society where our roles are gendered, both genders lose out. A society that privileges one gender over another can produce some consequences that do not serve the needs of either gender. That’s what we’re seeing here.”

University equity advisor Irene Bujara said the root cause of this trend of more women attending university can be found at the secondary level.

“I think there has been some concern shown at the secondary school level to try to make sure that there isn’t a barrier or some reason why men aren’t coming to university at the same rate, so if there is a barrier developing there, it will be researched, re-found and readdressed.”

Bujara said although women have been welcomed in academia at the undergraduate level, women are still struggling for equality in the workforce.

“Gaining access in many workplaces is pretty much a given, I don’t say all, but many. Once you’re in, that’s where the barriers come in. It may be the same in the area of education. The access is there for universities, it’s certainly gender neutral in terms of straight marks and getting in that way, but once you’re in do you really have the same choices?’”

Bujara said the double burden felt by women continues to prevent them from obtaining full equality in the workforce upon graduation.

“The literature does show us that despite all of the gains—and there are more men that are taking family on the family side—it is still the women who are taking the brunt of the work that gets done in a family setting,” she said.“The numbers may be there, but there is still a lot to be done in terms of translating it into equality socially overall.”

Gender by Numbers

FacultyClass of 1980 (Percent)Class of 2013 (Percent)Males Females Males FemalesArts and Science 41.158.9 31.468.6Commerce 61.638.4 51.448.6Education49.150.9 30.969.1Applied Science89.011.0 75.124.9Law71.728.3 50.849.2Medicine80.020.0 53.246.8Nursing1.798.32.497.6Rehabilitation4.1 9.9

—Emilly Davies and Monica Heisey

Source: University registrar

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