As its International Women’s Day, it’s interesting to take a brief look at gender in Higher Education; specifically graduate outcomes. There are lots of factors that can influence outcomes and this update only looks at gender, but when you add characteristics such as ethnicity or disability alongside gender, the picture changes again.
First a caveat; I was disappointed when researching data that the most reputable sources only separate graduates by sex and not gender or perhaps they have even confused the two; so on a day where we are actively celebrating gender equality, I’d like to share the Genderbread Person below, which is a great infographic to understand the concept of gender and why it’s important that we don’t use it interchangeably with sex.
The number of graduates has increased steadily over the past decade and it is widely known that females are more likely to enter Higher Education than their male counterparts (see UCAS applicant figures). However when looking at the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Graduates in the UK labour market, the outcomes of female graduates compared to male graduates highlight a disparity in employment attainment after leaving Higher Education.
The research defines a graduate in broad terms as: “a person who is aged between 21 and 64, not enrolled on any educational course and who has a level of higher education above A level standard.” With this definition, it looks at all graduates and not just recent graduates, therefore using a data set of 14million people in the UK who were graduates from July to September 2017.
Delving deeper into the report, employment rates differ between male and female graduates, with 86% of male graduates in employment compared to 79% of female graduates (figure 13a). Further to this, the research also finds that male graduates are more likely to have high or upper-middle skilled employment (figure 14a). It’s important to note that in this research, high-skilled employment involves use of skill acquired from a degree or equivalent; upper-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from post-compulsory education but not degree level; lower-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from compulsory education with a combination of work experience; and low skilled employment involves skill attained from compulsory education.
The data shows female graduates are almost twice as likely to have lower-middle skilled employment compared to male graduates, which goes some way to explain why the median gross hourly pay differs, with male graduates receiving £17 an hour on average, compared to female graduates receiving £14 an hour.
33% of female graduates work part-time, compared to only 8% of male graduates (figure 14b) and 47% of all part-time workers are employed in lower-middle skilled jobs (figure 14c). The statistics show that the lower-skilled jobs seem to offer more opportunities to work part-time; which is a need that can be influenced by a number of factors including family commitments, which as 11% of female graduates, compared to 2% of male graduates, are ‘inactive due to looking after the family and/or home’ (figure 13b), is a factor which has a greater impact on female graduates than male graduates.
Figure 11 shows that STEM degrees lead to higher salaries and Figure 15b shows that the subjects that lead to the highest average salaries are mainly dominated by male students. According to WISE: “Women make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK”. Because of this, there are fewer female role models working in these areas and/or going on to teach STEM subjects; something which is vital to move towards a gender-balanced workforce and also increase the earning potential of female graduates.
There are initiatives such as Athena SWAN which seek to address gender equality in Higher Education and you can read more about how this is working in the recent Wonkhe article ‘No more steps. It’s time for a leap on gender equality.’
Ultimately, despite females making up 58% of the overall figure of applicants (see UCAS), they are less likely to apply for the subjects that lead to the greatest earning potential and are also less likely to achieve employment utilising the skills developed from undertaking a degree. This is something that needs to be looked into if we want to achieve this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter.