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Page last edited: 28/09/2014

 Gender and Subject Choice: Data and Explanations [You may also click here for a basic summary of this document]

 

Note Added September 2014.

This is the third time that I have updated these statistics on Gender and Subject Choice . In each case I have relied mainly on the  Joint Council for Qualifications [JCQ]  website publication for GCSE and GCSE Advanced Level examination results supplemented by various items from the BBC and Guardian websites.

The JCQ website provides full details of all GCSE and GCE Advanced level entries and grades attained subdivided by gender . Most of the data in this document are taken from the 2014 JCQ document which contains provisional GCSE and Advanced level data although any subsequent revisions to the data are likely to be very small. The percentages cited in several of the following tables are mostly my own calculations based upon the JCQ data .

I have also included links to BBC, Guardian and Independent articles and to some official and unofficial reports.

The data are followed by a brief analysis of factors leading to gender differences in subject choice which are more apparent at GCE  Advanced Level  and Degree level than at GCSE level

 

Click here for the DCSF Research paper" Gender and Education: The Evidence on Pupils in England:"  Published 18th July 2007This paper provides very detailed statistical information on all aspects of the relationships between gender and educational achievement. [ Please note that the link to this paper has remained broken for sometime, for which I apologise, but it has now been reactivated.] 

Click here for recent Guardian article on Gender and Computer Science NEW link added December 2012

Click here for Guardian coverage of recent Select Committee report NEW link added June 2013

Click here and here for two recent BBC items New Links added July 2013

Click here for  Review of  Engineering Skills  by Professor Perkins New Link added November 2013

 

 

Important  Links to information on GCE Advanced Level Results and GCSE Results 2014- 2012

GCE Advanced Level results for 2014 can be found by clicking here for the Joint Council for Qualifications website . Also for further information Click here for a general Guardian article and here for very detailed Guardian statistical coverage  and Click here for BBC coverage  and click here for Times Educational Supplement coverage

GCE Advanced Level results for 2013  can be found by clicking here for the JCQ website. Also click here and here and here and here and here and here for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage and here and here  and here and here for Independent coverage.

lClick here and follow the appropriate links for full JCQ Information on the 2012 GCE Advanced level entries and results . Click here and here for Guardian articles on 2012 GCE Advanced Level results including numerical data and graphics on Gender and Educational Achievement at Advanced Level and Click here and here for BBC articles on 2012 Advanced Level Results .

Click here for full GCSE results for 2014 from the Joint Council for Qualifications and Click here and here for Guardian coverage  and here and here for BBC coverage of the 2014 GCSE Results

  Click here for full GCSE results for 2013 from the Joint Council for Qualifications and here and here [especially useful] and  here and  here and here and here and here for Guardian  and here and here and here for BBC coverage  of the 2013 GCSE Results.

Click here for full GCSE results from the Joint Council for Qualifications  and here for Guardian and here for BBC coverage  of the 2012 GCSE Results.

 

 

Gender and Subject Choice:  Data Sources

There are two main sources of data on gender. subject choice and examination results at GCSE and GCE Advanced Levels. These are the data from the Joint Council on Qualifications which provide information on all students of all ages in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and data from the DFE which provide data on 15-16 year old and 16-18 year old  students respectively studying in English schools and colleges. Given these differences in coverage of the JCQ and DFE data there are some differences in the data of these two sources on gender differences in entry rates and pass rates but such differences are fairly small. I shall use data from the JCQ  here: the various percentages in the document are my own calculations based upon the JCQ data.

 [interested students may also refer to my more detailed document where information is provided also on data from the DFE on the 2011/12 examinations and this document will be updated shortly. ]

Gender and Subject Choice: Preliminary Summary

The full data on gender differences in subject choice presented in the annual Joint Council for Qualifications publications are very detailed and even my summary of them contains several tables of data which are not suitable for use under examination conditions. I hope therefore that students will find useful the following summary of the main findings from the data tables which follow.  They may then discuss with their teachers how much further statistical information will be useful for examination purposes.

  1. In relation to most of the 10 highest entry GCSE subjects gender differences in subject entry are small.
  2. These differences were negligible for the compulsory National Curriculum subjects [Mathematics: +50.7%F; Science + 50.7%F; English +50.8%M]
  3. Differences were small also for Additional Sciences [+5.3%F], , History [+51.4%F], Religious Studies [+53.7%F]} and Geography [+54%M}
  4. However the were substantial differences in entry for Art and Design [+66.3%F] and Design and Technology {+59.7%M] .
  5. Among the less popular subjects gender differences in subject entry for individual Science subjects were small : Biology [+50.03%F]; Chemistry [50.9%M]; Physics [50.1%M]
  6. Gender differences in subject entry were substantial in French [+57.3%F] and Spanish [+56.6%F] but not in German [+52.1%F]
  7. However in some other subjects gender differences in entry were much larger and to some extent reflected gender differences in career aspirations or and/or expectations. Thus Males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 95.6% of Construction entrants were male  and 94.6% of Health and Social Care entrants were female .
  1. Gender and GCSE Subject Choice  2010 -2014.

2. Gender and Overall GCSE Pass Grades A*-C 2011- 2014

  2011 2012 2013 2014 Comments
Total GCSE Entries 5,151,970 5,225,288 5,445,324 5,217,573  
Female Entries 2,620,074 2,662,403 2,783,039 2,664,467  
Male Entries 2,531,896 2,562,885 2,662,285 2,553,106  
Total GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 69.8% 69.4% 68.1% 68.8% Falls in A*-C GCSE pass rate for first time since introduction of GCSE in 1986 in 2012 and 2013. Slight increase in 2014 but still below  2011/12 percentage Gender differences in attainment of GCSE A*-C pass grades in 2014 was the greatest for 10 years
Female GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 73.5% 73.3% 72.3% 73.1% As above ; falls in 2012 and 2013 and subsequent slight increase 2014 in female A*-C GCSE Pass Rate
Male GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 66.0% 65.4% 63.7% 64.3% As above ; falls in 2012 and 2013 and subsequent slight increase in 2014  in male  A*-C GCSE Pass Rate
Total GCSE A* Pass Rate 7.8% 7.3% 6.8% 6.7% Continual fall in Total A* GCSE Pass Rate  2011- 2014
Female GCSE A*Pass Rate 9.1% 8.7% 8.3% 8.1% As above: continual fall  in female A* GCSE Pass Rate 2011-2014. Females continue to achieve a greater % of A* Grades than Males
Male GCSE A* Pass Rate 6.4% 6.0% 5.3% 5.2% As above: continual Fall in male A*-C GCSE Pass Rate 2011- 2014
Total GCSE A Pass Rate 15.4% 15.1% 14,5% 14.7% Falls in Total GCSE A Pass Rate 2011- 2013 followed by slight increase in 2013/14
Female GCSE A Pass Rate 17.4% 16.9% 16.5% 16.7% As above: falls in female A GCSE Pass Rate 2011-  2013 followed by slight increase in 2014. Females continue to achieve a greater % of A grades than Males
Male GCSE A  Pass Rate 13.4% 12.9% 12.3% 12.4% As above: falls in male A GCSE Pass Rate 2011-  2012/13 followed by slight increase in 2014

  It has been argued that where overall A*-C pass grades have fallen this  can be explained to a considerable extent by the increase in early  entries of 15year old candidates who on average achieve lower grades than 16 year-olds and also because in some subjects [ especially perhaps English Mathematics and the Sciences] examination questions may have been more difficult and examination marking more rigorous. However  in September 2013 the then Secretary of State for Education announced schools' assessment criteria which have clearly led to a reduction the proportion of 15 year olds entered for GCSE examinations in 2014 which almost certainly has contributed to the increase in the 2014 GCSE A*-C pass rate .[Click here for further details from the TES] . Also although the overall GCSE A*-C pass rate increased the GCSE A*-C pass rate in English fell from 63.6% to 61.7% and the TES reported that many schools were concerned at their disappointing results in English and Mathematics [although the overall GCSE A*-C  ass rate in Mathematics did increase significantly . 

 

3.Gender  and GCSE Subject Choice and Results in Specific Subjects 2011 -14

 

  2012 [ First % Rounded] 2013 2014
Mathematics 1 50%        M+0.9% 1  50.2%F    M+0.7% 1  50.7%F     M+0.2%
English 2 51% M   F+16.6% 2  50.7 %M   F+14.9% 2  50.8%M    F+15.9%
Science 3  53% F    F+5.0 % 4  50.1%F     F+5.9% 4  50.7%F      F+5.6%
English Literature 4  53%F     F+12.3% 3  55.1%F     F+11.6% 3  52.4%F      F+14.0%
Additional Science 5  51%F     F+5.7% 5  51.7%F     F+6.5% 5  51.3% F     F+5.8%
Design and Technology 6  56%M    F+17.8% 9   58.4%M   F+17.8% 9  59.7%M     F+18.6%
Religious Studies 7  54%F     F+10.3% 6   54.1%F    F+12.8% 6  53.7%F       F+13.7%
History 8  51%M    F+7.3% 7   50.5%F    F+8.1% 7  51.4%F       F+7.1%
Geography 9  58% M   F+9.3% 8  62.7%M    F+9.0% 8  54.0%M      F+8.3%
Art and Design 10  56%F   F+18.1% 10  67.0%F    F+18.1% 10 66.3%F       F+18.8%

 

 

  2012 [Rounded%] 2013 2014
Biology 52%M     F+0.8% 50.5%M     F+2.6% 50.03%M    F+1.6%
Chemistry 53%M     F+1.5% 51.3%M     F+0.8% 50.9%M      F+2.5%
Physics 52%M     M+0.2% 51.4%M     F+0.6% 50.1%M      F+0.6%
French 58%F      F+9.5% 57.6%F      F+10.9% 57.3%F        F+11.5%
German 53%F      F+9.6% 52.0%F      F+9.1% 52.1%F        F+ 10.4%
Spanish 58%F      F+8.9% 57.3%F       F+10.2% 56.6%F        F+10.3%

It should be noted that traditionally larger percentages of entrants for individual Sciences have been males but that these gender gaps have narrowed appreciably since 2009 and by 2014 have become very small.[ You may check the JCQ 2014 publication for confirmation!]

  2012 2013 2014
 1.Economics   69.6% M 78.2%M
 2,PE   65.7%M 66.1%M
 3.Business Studies   57.6%M 58.7%M
 4.ICT   58.0%M 57.2%M
5Social Sciences   68.2%F 68.0%F
 6. Drama   61.7%F 62.1%F
7. Health and Social Care   94.8%F 94.6%F
8. Home Economics   87.3%F 87.8%F
9. Performing Arts   87.3%F 83.3%F
10. Construction   96.6%M 95.9%M
11. Technology [excl. Design and Technology]   93.3%M 94.6%M
121. Engineering   92.7%M 93.0%M

 

 

Assignment

  • Students might wish to summarise the key conclusions from the above data on recent GCSE pass rates and gender differences in subject choices.

 

 

   Gender and  GCE Advanced Level Subject Choice  

1.Gender and  Overall GCE Advanced Level  Pass Grades     2012-2014

  2011 2012 2013 2014 Comment
Total Entries 867,317 861,819 850,752 833,807  
Total Female Entries 401,676 465,905 461,202 453,984 Total female entries consistently exceed total mail entries
Total Male Entries 465,641 395,914 389,550 379,823  
Overall A*-E Pass Rate 97.8 98 98.1 98.0 A*-E Pass rate rose in 2012 and 2013 for 30th and 31st consecutive year. Fell in 2014. Although A* pass rate increased in 2014 pass rate for all other grades fell
Female A*-E Pass Rate 98.3 98.4 98.5 98.4 As above
Male A*-E  Pass Rate 97.3 97.5 97.6 97.4 As above
Overall A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.6 8.2 Overall A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013 but rose in 2014
Female A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.4 7.9 Female A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013  and rose in 2014. Female  A* pass rate lower than Male A* pass rate  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014
Male A* Pass Rate 8.2 8.0 7.9 8.5 Male A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013  and rose in 2014. Male A* pass rate higher  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014
Overall A Pass Rate 18.8 18.7 18.7 17.8 .Slight decline in Overall A pass rate in 2012 and a larger decline in 2014
Female A Pass Rate 19.5 19.3 19.3 18.3 Female A Pass rate Higher than Male A Pass rate. Female and Male A Pass rates both fall between 2013 and 2014
Male A Pass Rate 18.0 17.8 18.0 17.2 Male APass rate lower than Female A Pass rate.
Overall A* + A Pass Rate 27.0 26.6 26.3 26.0 Overall A*+A Pass Rate falls in 2012. 2013 and 2014
Female A*+A  Pass Rate  27.7 27.2 26.7 26.2 Female A*+A  Pass Rate exceeds Male A*+A pass rate because Male lead in A*pass rate is smaller than Female lead in A Pass  rate 
Male A* + A Pass Rate 26.2 25.8 25.9 25.7  

 

2 GCE Advanced Level: Some Recent Trends in Total Subject Entries

 

3.GCE Advanced Level : 10 most Popular Subjects in order of Popularity for all Students, for Females and for Males 2008 -14

The 10 Most Popular Subjects in Rank Order for All Students

 

All Students 2008 All Students 2010 All Students 2012 All Students 2013 All Students 2014
English 89,111 English English English Mathematics 88,816
Mathematics,64,593 Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics English 85,336
Biology 56,010 Biology Biology Biology Biology 64,070
General Studies 54,879 Psychology Psychology Psychology Psychology54,818
Psychology 52,706 History History History Chemistry 53,513
History 48,037 General Studies Chemistry Chemistry History 52,131
Art and Design 44,212 Art and Design Art and Design Art and Design Art and Design 44,922
Chemistry41,680 Chemistry General Studies Physics Physics36,701
Media/Film/TV Studies 32,749 Media/Film/TV Studies Physics Geography Geography33,007
Geography31,714 Geography Media/Film/TV Studies General Studies Sociology 30594

Note note that neither Physics nor Sociology appeared among the10 most popular subjects in 2008. For comparative purpose 28,096 candidates entered for Physics and 28, 473 candidates entered for Sociology in  2008 .

 

Exercise

A

  1. What have been the main changes in the relative popularity of the most popular GCE Advanced Level subjects since 2008?

B:

Before looking at the various following charts and tables try to answer the following questions

  1. .In the following list of subjects relating to 2013/14 there are 7 subjects which appeared in the top 10 most popular subjects for females and males, 3 subjects which appeared only in the female Top 10 and 3 subjects which appeared only in the male top 10. Can you decide which subjects appeared in which of these three categories?. Art and Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Economics, English, Geography, History, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology.
  2. Once you have decided which you think are the 10 most popular Female Choices try to rank them from 1 -10 in order of female popularity.
  3. Once you have decided which you think are the 10 most popular Male Choices try to rank them in order of male popularity.
  4. What percentages of students were males and females respectively in the following subjects in 2013/14? Physics?  English?  Mathematics? Sociology? Biology? Chemistry? History?
  5. Do you think that gender differences in subject choice have changed much in the last 2-3 years?   

The 10 Most Popular Subject Choices: Females 2008- 2014

In the following table the first figure in each column refers to the rank order of subjects within the 10 most popular female subject choices and the second figures [ in columns 5 and 6}  refer to the percentages of subject entrants who were female. Notice that in Mathematics although this was the fourth most popular subject choice for females in 2014 only 38.7% of Mathematics entrants were female. Notice also that gender differences in entry for Chemistry, History and Geography were small. 

 

 

Females 2008 Females2010 Females 2012 Females 2013 Females 2014
English 1 1 1 1   71.8 1   71.8
Psychology 2 2 2 2   74.3 2   75.1
Biology 4 4 3 3   57.8 3   58.9
Mathematics 6 6 5 4   39.3 4   38.7
Art and Design 5 3 4 5   74.7 5   75.4
History 7 7 6 6   51.8 6   52.4
Chemistry 9 9 8 7   47.9 7   48.4
Sociology 8 8 7 8   75.4 8   75.7
Religious Studies --- --- --- --- 9   69.3
Geography ---  --- --- --- 10  50.0
General Studies 3 5 9 9   54.9  ---
Media/Film/TV Studies 10 10 10 10  55.4  ---

 

 

The 10 Most Popular Subject Choices: Males 2008-2014

In the following table the first figure in each column refers to the rank order of subjects within the 10 most popular male subject choices and the second figures [ in columns 5 and 6}  refer to the percentages of subject entrants who were male. Notice that in Biology and English , although these were the 4th and 6th most popular subject choices respectively  for males only 28% of English entrants and 41% of Biology entrants were male. Notice also that gender differences in entry for Chemistry, History and Geography were small. 

 

 

 

Males2008 Males2010 Males 2012 Males2013 Males 2014
Mathematics 1 1 1 1   60.7 1   61.3
Physics 6 4 3 2   79.2 2   78.9
Chemistry 7 6 4 4   52.1 3   51.6
Biology 5 3 2 3   42.2 4   41.1
History 4 5 6 6   48.2 5   47.6
English 3 2 5 5   28.2 6   28.2
Economics -- 10 10 7   66.8 7   67.6
Geography 9 9 7 8 8   50.0
Business Studies 8 8 8 9   58.8 9   58.0
Psychology -- --- --- 10 25.7 10 24.9
General Studies 2 7 9  ---   --
PE 10  ---   ---   ---   ---

 

  1. Gender differences in subject choice are considerably larger at GCE Advanced Level than at GCE Level.

    2.There were  some changes in the relative popularity of different subjects among both female and male students as between 2008 and 2014

Females 2008 Females 2010 Females 2012 Females 2013 Females 2014 Males2008 Males2010 Males 2012 Males 2013 Males 2014
English English English English English Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics Maths
Psychology Psychology Psychology Psychology Psychology General Studies English Biology Physics Physics
General Studies Art and Design Biology Biology Biology English Biology Physics Biology Chemistry
Biology Biology Art and Design Mathematics Mathematics History Physics Chemistry Chemistry Biology
Art and Design General Studies Mathematics Art and Design Art and Design Biology History English English History
Mathematics Mathematics History History History Physics Chemistry History History English
History History Sociology Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry General Studies Geography Economics Economics
Sociology Sociology Chemistry Sociology Sociology Business Studies Business Studies Business Studies Geography Geography
Chemistry Chemistry General Studies General Studies Religious Studies Geography Geography General Studies Business Studies Business Studies
Media/Film/TV Studies Media/Film/TV Studies Media/Film/TV studies Media/Film/TV studies Geography P.E. Economics Economics Psychology Psychology

   Click here for EXCEL Charts giving an alternative [and possibly clearer] presentation of this information. [I did think about deleting the above table...honestly!!]

Click here for EXCEL Charts showing the 10 Most Popular GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2014 with percentages of Male and Female entrants for each subject.

Gender and  GCE Advanced Level Subject Choice  2012 and 2014: Some Further Comparisons

We can analyse gender differences in subject choice by focussing on two distinct questions.

In this  table are listed  the 10 subjects with the largest percentages of female and male entrants respectively in 2014 and the percentages of female entrants and male entrants respectively in these subjects in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is shown that these percentages vary little  in most subjects between 2012 and 2014 although there are some minor changes in the rank order some subjects among females. [Also in the cases of  Welsh and Performing and Expressive Arts  the fluctuations in the percentages are greater but this is related to the fact that actual numbers choosing some of these subjects are very small].

 

Subjects : substantial majority percentages of entrants are Female

2012 % 2013 % 2014%

Performing and Expressive Arts

87.7 87.9 90.1

Welsh

81.1 88.2 83.0

Sociology

75.0 75.3 75.6

Art and Design

76.3 75.2 75.3

Psychology

73.1 74.3 75.1

Communication Studies

73.2 73.0 72.4

English

71.2 71.8 71.8

Drama

68.5 68.7 69.4

French

68.9 68.8 68.4

Religious Studies

     

Notice that  Biology, Chemistry, History and Geography are all among the top 10 favourite subjects for males and females . There was a substantial gender difference in entries for Biology [59%F 41%M] but in Chemistry, Geography and History  the percentage gender differences in subject choice  these subjects were small. [See previous table] 

     

Subjects :  substantial majority percentages of entrants are Male

     

Computing

92.2 93.5 92.5

Physics

78.9 79.2 78.9

Other Sciences

74.3 76.9 77.2

Further Mathematics

70.0 71.4 71.7

Economics

67.0 66.8 67.6

PE

65.3 64.7 65.4

ICT

61.4 62.3 63.9

Mathematics

60.7 60.7 61.3

Music

60.1 60.1 59.2

Business Studies

58.4 58.8 58.0

 

Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics

  Males 2012 Females 2012 Males 2013 Females 2013 Males 2014 Females 2014
Biological Sciences 43.5  27,410 56.5  35,664 42.2  26,988 57.8  36,951 41.1   26,346 58.9   37,724
Chemistry 52.8  25,974 47.2 23,260 52.1  26,988 47.9  24,830 51 .6 27,627 49.4  25.876
Physics 78.9  27,148 21.1  7,361 79.2  28,190 20.8  7,379 78.9   28.958 21.1  7,743
Mathematics 60.7  51,413 39.3  34,301 60.7   53,435 39.3  34,625 61.3   54,442 38.7  43,374
Further Mathematics 70.0   9,251 30.0  3,972 71.4   9,870   28.6 3,951 71.7  10,053 21.3  3,975

On the basis of this table we see that the numbers of both Males and Females opting for Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics have increased but that whereas the increase in numbers opting for Biological Sciences and Chemistry has been fairly similar for Males and Females, the increase in numbers opting for Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics has been greater for males . If these trends continue we shall not see equal numbers of males and females opting for Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics any time soon!  Click here for The Independent's coverage of gender differences in entries  in Mathematics and the Natural Sciences in 2012/13 and here for an Independent article [September 2014] on gender and Physics, Mathematics and Engineering and here for a detailed report on Women in Engineering from the IPPR.[ Pages 5-7 have nicely presented graphics]

It is well known that working class male and female students are more likely to be unsuccessful at GCSE level. These students are perhaps also more likely to have been socialised into traditional gender roles and to believe [correctly] that their employment prospects ,although limited, are best in traditional male and female  occupations. Many relatively unsuccessful female students may therefore opt for subjects such as Domestic Science or Health Care partly because they do not infringe traditional views of femininity, partly because of better employment prospects in these areas and partly because the skills gained are seen as being useful for their future roles as housewives/mothers. Relatively unsuccessful boys are likely to opt for Computing and Technology options for much the same reasons.

Gender differences in choice of Apprenticeship schemes are very marked and can surely be explained in terms of the ongoing strength of traditional socialisation processes and continuing gender differences in employment opportunities. It could indeed be argued that choices of such schemes have much more  power than do A level and Degree level subject choices to confirm or undermine traditional perceptions of femininity and masculinity. For example  opting for a bricklaying apprenticeship is more likely than opting for a Physics degree to undermine a girl's traditional sense of here femininity ...if she has one.

The Equal Opportunities Site provides information on Modern Apprenticeships in 2002/3 which indicates the very high proportions of females opting for apprenticeships in the following sectors: early years and education, Hairdressing, Travel Services and Health and Social Care and the similarly large proportions of males opting for apprenticeships in the following sectors: It and Electronic Services, Engineering, Construction, Motor Industry, Plumbing and Electro-Technical services.  Click here for good , but unfortunately slightly dated information on Gender issues from the Equal Opportunities Commission. Pages 4-9 refer to Gender and Education .

Click here for  Review of  Engineering Skills  by Professor Perkins  which indicates that it is likely that traditional gender differences in socialisation have been [and remain] especially powerful in traditionally organised families and that parents on average still tend to offer different career advice to sons and daughters and that which indicates that Males remain far more likely than females to enrol on Higher and Advanced Engineering apprenticeships.

There are also significant gender differences in Applied GCE Advanced Level Subject Choice.

Overall entries for Applied GCE Double Award Advanced levels are relatively small  but among the most popular options Health and Social Care was entered by 1950 females and 61 males; , Art and Design by 2002 females and 71 males; Business by 678 males and 427 females and ICT by 302 males and 54 females.

With regard to Applied GCE Single Award Advanced levels Health and Social Care was entered by 6526 females and 304 males; Art and Design by 217 females and 73 males; ICT by 4491 males and 2893 females and Business by 3828males and 3684females.

 

Gender, Subject Choice and Further and Higher Education

Click here for for a separate document with information on Further and Higher Education . The gendered patterns of subject choice which are established at Advanced Level occur also in Further Education and are, if anything even more marked in Higher Education.

 

Click here for Women and the Labour Market  and here for a related Podcast [ONS: September 2013].

Click here for Women in Public Life {March 2014] and here for a BBC summary of this report

In many past societies men and women have performed significantly different social roles and despite a range of economic, political and social changes such differences persist to a considerable extent in the contemporary world. For example in the case of the UK women are still more likely than men to take disproportionate responsibility for childcare and housework; they are more likely to opt for some types of employment than others ;their overall ir employment opportunities, although improving, are still worse than men’s and although they finally gained the right to vote in 1928 they are still much less likely than men to become local councillors, MPs or government ministers. There has been great controversy surrounding the extent to which these differences in social roles are explicable by biological sexual differences or by gender differences which are socially constructed rather than biologically determined.

It has been claimed that gender differences in childcare and housework responsibilities and in employment patterns derive from gender differences in hormonal balance, from biologically determined differences in physical strength and competitiveness and from women’s biologically determined maternal instincts. It has even been argued in the past that because males have larger brains they are on average more intelligent than females and that differing aptitudes and skills between males and females can be explained partly by differences in brain shape.

However sociologists are much more likely to argue that gender differences in social roles are mainly socially constructed and they have claimed  that in societies such as the UK the socialization process as it operated at least up to the 1970s meant that many parents socialized their daughters to show dependence, obedience, conformity and domesticity whereas boys were encouraged to be dominant, competitive and self -reliant and also that when young children saw their parents acting out traditional gender roles they would perceive these roles as natural and inevitable.

Furthermore In schools teachers praised girls for "feminine qualities" and boys for "masculine qualities"; boys and girls were encouraged to opt for traditional male and female subjects and then for traditional male and female careers. Furthermore in the mass media girls were encouraged to recognize the all importance of finding "Mr. Right" and settling down to a life of blissful domesticity in their traditional housewife-mother roles.

The 1976 study by Sue Sharpe could be used to explain gender differences in attitudes to education in general in terms of  gender differences in socialisation and the differing employment aspirations  and opportunities available to males and females.. Thus  she argued on the basis of a study of 15-16 year old girls that they saw their futures more in terms of marriage and motherhood rather than an permanent employment career but also that they had rejected many potential careers  because they had been socialised via family , school and mass media to regard them as traditional male careers and therefore inconsistent with their image of femininity and/or because they also recognised that employers would in any case be unlikely to employ females in such positions. Thus if they were intending to leave school at age 16 they were especially likely to opt for secretarial or retailing or light assembly work and if they were intending to continue their education they were most likely to opt for the caring profession such as nursing, teaching or social work which were widely believed to be in accordance with females' inborn nurturing qualities.

However it has been pointed out that from then 1950s to the 1980s gender differences in subject entry at GCE Ordinary Level  level were actually  fairly limited  from  the 1950s to the 1980s  in that 8 or 9 of the most popular O Level/GCSE subjects  have been the same for boys and girls  although there have been some differences in the rank order of the different subjects. Also at this time boys were typically more likely than girls to opt for Physics , Chemistry , PE,  Craft and Technology while Domestic Science and Religious Studies , Also gender differences in the allocation to practical subjects  at CSE level and in non-examination courses may well have been greater. more likely to be entered for the handicraft subjects which would prepare them for entry into traditional male skilled manual work. Very few girls . in the 1970s would have aspired to careers as say, motor mechanics, plumbers , bricklayers or electricians and even if they so aspire did would usually have been dissuaded by the realisation that they were highly likely to face gender discrimination  if they sought these types of employment.

Once the GCSE replaced the GCE and CSE examinations from 1986 [for first examination in 1988] gender differences in subject entry were again small in relation to the 10 most entered GCSE subjects  although there were some significant gender differences in subject choice especially in relation to subjects geared to careers which were seen as traditionally male or traditionally female. For 2014 relationships between gender and GCSE subject choice may be summarised as follows:

  1. In relation to most of the 10 highest entry GCSE subjects gender differences in subject entry are small.
  2. These differences were negligible for the compulsory National Curriculum subjects [Mathematics: +50.7%F; Science + 50.7%F; English +50.8%M]
  3. Differences were small also for Additional Sciences [+5.3%F], , History [+51.4%F], Religious Studies [+53.7%F]} and Geography [+54%M}
  4. However the were substantial differences in entry for Art and Design [+66.3%F] and Design and Technology {+59.7%M] .
  5. Among the less popular subjects gender differences in subject entry for individual Science subjects were small : Biology [+50.03%F]; Chemistry [50.9%M]; Physics [50.1%M]
  6. Gender differences in subject entry were substantial in French [+57.3%F] and Spanish [+56.6%F] but not in German [+52.1%F]
  7. However in some other subjects gender differences in entry were much larger and to some extent reflected gender differences in career aspirations or and/or expectations. Thus Males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 95.6% of Construction entrants were male  and 94.6% of Health and Social Care entrants were female .

Although as stated gender differences in subject choice at GCE/ GCSE Level had been fairly small sociologists especially from from the 1980s onwards sociologists had voiced concerns especially in relations to the effects of schools themselves in encouraging stereotypical option choices and limiting girls' access to the Natural Sciences. Thus it was argued by Teresa Grafton and co. [1987] on the basis of a study of one co-educational comprehensive school in the South West of England that the schools themselves in the 1980s were encouraging traditional gender differences in subject choices which reflected the gender division of labour in society generally. There were limited places for boys and girls in non-traditional craft options and subject advice given by teachers reflected traditional views as to the "appropriate" gender division of labour. However, as would be expected, the researchers found also that subject choices were affected also by the gender division of labour in the home and in the labour market.

Alison Kelly [1987] attempted to analyse why female students were less likely to opt for sciences other than Biology. She argued that girls often felt at a disadvantage in Science lessons because textbooks and teaching examples tended to reflect male rather than female interests; because science teachers tended to be male and to relate more easily to boys; and because boys tended to monopolise equipment and class discussion. These factors could combine to cause an ongoing decline in girls' enrolments in Sciences other than Biology but they did not apply to Biology which was seen  by girls as more relevant to their preferred career options, for example as nurses, and to their likely future as housewives and mothers.

Initiatives such as GIST [Girls into Science and Technology] and WISE [Women into Science and Engineering] were begun in the late 1970s and early 1980s in an attempt to encourage female students to study Science and Engineering subjects although the effectiveness of these initiatives should not be overstated. In the GIST programme[1979-1983] researchers worked  in 10 co-educational comprehensive schools to try to raise teacher awareness of equal opportunities issues and to encourage more girls to opt for Sciences at GCE and CSE levels. The final report concluded that the initiative had improved girls' attitudes to Science and Technology ; that it had nevertheless had little impact on subject choice; and that the teachers, although sympathetic to the programme, said that they had not modified their teaching practices substantially as a result. However the GIST initiative could be regarded as an early pilot programme which has encouraged many subsequent equal opportunities initiatives.  [The WISE programme was set up as a national initiative by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council and was designed to raise awareness of the need for more female scientists and technologists and to emphasise the attractiveness for girls, young women and older women seeking to retrain of  careers in Science and Technology. WISE is still in operation and its website points out that whereas about 20 years ago only 4% of Engineering undergraduates were women the figure for 2009 was 13%. Obviously WISE itself may well have contributed to this increase at least to some extent. ]

When the  National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 English  Maths and Science all became compulsory subjects at GCSE level and most schools entered males and females in very similar proportions for the Double Science Award although there remained significant gender differences in entry for separate GCSE courses in Physics, Chemistry [ more boys] and Biology [more girls] and boys were also more likely than girls to study GCSE options such as Economics , Information Technology and Computing.  Thus Anne Colley [1998] argued that despite the introduction of the National Curriculum girls were still being dissuaded from opting for Science and Technology subjects. She claimed that the images of the instrumental male and the expressive female [suggested, as you will doubtless recall, by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s] still exercise a considerable hold over male and female attitudes ; that Computing [or Information Technology] especially continues to be taught in ways more appealing to boys than girls  and that girls are more successful in Maths and Science when they are taught in all-girls schools or in single sex classes in coeducational schools [a point that this disputed by other analysts who oppose single sex teaching] .

When the Double Award Science examinations were replaced by separate Science and Additional Science examinations this led also to increased entries for GCSEs in Biology , Physics and Chemistry and in recent years gender differences in entry for these subjects have fallen considerable and in 2014 total entries for these subjects also fell considerably. It seems useful to provide some additional detail on these recent developments in relation to the GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

  2001 2005 2012 2013 2014
Biology M 27,711 31,771 86,647 88,063 70,988
Biology F 21,247 24,751 79,521 86,365 70,912
Chemistry M 27,432 30,765 84,772 85,089 70,308
Chemistry F 19,430 22,463 74,754 81,002 67,930
Physics M 27,875 31,153 83,976 82,580 69,933
Physics F 18,602 21,415 73,401 78,155 67,294

 

Thus the most  recent 2014 data indicate that gender differences in entry for single science GCSE courses have declined but that males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 95.6% of Construction entrants were male  and 94.6% of Health and Social Care entrants were female . Gender differences in subject entry were substantial also in French [+57.3%F] and Spanish [+56.6%F] but not in German [+52.1%F]

Gender and Subject Choice: GCE Advanced level

When Sue Sharpe repeated her 1976 study in 1994 female employment opportunities had improved, traditional gender differences in socialisation were weakening and she found that girls expressed more interest in careers in general and they have since the 1990s been increasingly  likely to enrol on GCE Advanced level and Degree courses and to seek employment in professional and managerial occupations. In her  study[2000]  of 50 girls and 50 boys in years 10 and 11 at 3 London comprehensive schools Becky Francis found that the girls in her sample expressed interest in a relatively wide variety of careers; were relatively unlikely to favour stereotypical female careers such as nurse, clerical worker or air hostess ; were  quite likely to express interest in careers usually associated with men and very likely to express interest in careers for which further education, higher education and a degree will be necessary.

However even in 2014 despite some considerable relative improvement women remain generally under-represented in high status, well-paid professional and managerial occupations relative to men and under-represented especially  in some professions such as those related to Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Computing,, Technology, and Architecture. It transpires that gender differences in subject choice at Advanced Level and beyond are greater than at GCSE Level  and that these gender differences in subject choice may be seen as both a consequence and a cause  of the underrepresentation of women in particular professions.

 

Click here for  a summary of  a recent [2009] report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which suggests that  Becky Francis' research may perhaps understate the extent of ongoing significant gender differences in perceived career prospects  and calls for better advice on subject choice and career choice. 

Click here for an article from the Independent [August 2012] which reports recent research suggesting that gender differences in employment intention are still based to a considerable extent of stereotypical views of male and female employment patterns.

Click herehere and here  and here for BBC items on women in scientific careers  NEW links added October 2012

 

Gender differences in subject choice are considerably larger at GCE Advanced Level than at GCE Level. In 2014

  • 7 subjects appeared among the 10 most popular choices for both Female and Male students although they did appear in different rank orders. These subjects were Mathematics, English, Biology Psychology, Chemistry, History and Geography .

  • 3 subjects were in the female top 10 but not in the male top 10 : Art and Design, Sociology and Religious Studies.

  • 3 Subjects were in the male top 10 but not in the female top 10 : Physics, Economics and Business Studies

  • Among males Mathematics and Physics  were the two most popular subjects whereas Mathematics was the fourth most popular subject for Females and Physics did not appear at all in the female top10 .

  • Among females English and Psychology were the two most popular subjects but were 5th and 10th respectively among males. .

  • Art and Design, Sociology and Religious Studies appear only in the female top 10 while Physics, Economics and Business Studies,  appear only in the male top 10.

  • Biology was the 3rd most popular choice among females and fourth most popular among males and 59% of Biology entrants were female compared with 41% of male entrants.

  • Chemistry was a more popular choice among males[3rd with males; 7th with females] although the percentages of male and female  Chemistry entrants were similar [51.6%M and 48.4% F]

  • The percentages of male and female entrants for  History and Geography are also very similar.,

  • Among more rarely chosen subjects Performing and Expressive Arts, Welsh,  Drama, Communication Studies and French had majorities of female entrants.

  • Among more rarely chosen subjects Further Mathematics, Other Sciences, Computing and ICT had majorities of Male entrants

In summary Females were more likely than Males to opt for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences [other than Economics ] and Biology Males were more likely than females to opt for Mathematics, Further Mathematics Physics, Chemistry [only a slight majority of male entrants], Other Sciences, Computing, ICT, Economics and Business Studies. These subject choices at Advanced level have important implications for subsequent choices at Higher Education Level and for future careers.

How are these gender differences in subject choice to be explained?

  1. As females came to outperform males in all areas of the education system it was noted that they did so especially in Arts and Humanities whereas gender differences in examination results were much smaller in Mathematics and Sciences and this led to claims that the gendered variations in examination results in different subjects might be explicable in terms of gender differences in the structures and operations of the brain which enabled females to develop superior linguistic skills.
  2. I am not qualified to evaluate such biologically based theories  but can state, from a sociological point of view, that if  girls do , on average, have superior linguistic skills , this may be explained at least partly  by the fact that females are more likely to have been socialised by their mothers and/or first school teachers to see reading as a "feminine activity"
  3.  It may be also that female relative success in English may be linked to the conventional perception of willingness to discuss personal issues as a feminine trait and female relative success in English may also help to explain why females are more likely than males to opt for subjects such as Modern Foreign Languages, Religious studies and Sociology where discursive skills are especially important .
  4. Female students are in many cases  more likely to opt at Advanced Level for the subjects in which they have been especially successful at GCSE Level.
  5. The above mentioned studies of Alison Kelly[1987] and Anne Colley[ 1998] suggested that there were aspects of GCSE Ordinary Level and GCSE teaching of Science and Technology subjects which may well have dissuaded females from opting for these subjects at Advanced Level even when they were successful at GCSE level. It may be that the GIST and WISE [see above] programmes addressed these issues to some extent but that further initiatives are necessary to encourage females to opt for Science and Technology subjects at Advanced Level
  6. Female students may have been  socialised also to recognise that it was mainly men who were likely to secure employment in most scientifically and technologically based  based subjects and in some , perhaps many cases  these attitudes may be reinforced by misguided advice from subject and career teachers.
  7. However as increasing numbers of females have opted to train to become doctors and as Nursing becomes a graduate profession it is easy to see why more females opt for Biology and Chemistry than Physics.
  8. Once subjects are strongly perceived as predominantly "male" or predominantly "female" subjects self-fulfilling prophecies may operate as males continue to choose "male" subjects and females continue to choose "female" subjects.

Thus Females may be more likely than males to opt for Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences at Advanced Level because they have been more successful than males at GCSE Level partly as a result of superior language skills, because they may feel more comfortable in discussion of the subject matter, because they associate the Arts , Humanities and Social Sciences with career opportunities which are more open to females partly because they have been influenced in these perceptions by parents, teachers and the mass media. Meanwhile they are dissuaded from Mathematics, Physics , Chemistry [to a lesser extent] , Computing, Technology, Economics and Business Studies the Science because they have been socialised to believe that these are "male" leading to male career opportunities and have been dissuaded from choosing these subjects at Advanced level as a result of teaching methods at GCSE level which in various ways discourage girls.

Similar factors operate to encourage male pupils toward Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry [only a slight majority of subject entrants are male], Computing, Technology, Economics  and Business Studies .

  1. Young boys may be socialised from an early age to perceive careers in Science and Technology as especially appropriate for males.
  2. The gender attainment gap in GCE Ordinary Level/GCSE has always been small in recent years boys have sometimes outperformed girls in GCSE Mathematics while although girls have narrowly outperformed males in GCSE Science subjects the attainment gap has been smaller than in Arts and Humanities subjects.
  3. It may be that boys are relatively successful at GCSE Level in Mathematics, Science and Technology subjects because they have been encouraged to recognises the linkages between success in these subjects and primarily male career opportunities. ...although some will say it is the shape of the male brain that is the key determining factor!
  4. Be that as it may boys are then in many cases more likely to opt for the Advanced level subjects in which they have been most successful at GCSE Level.
  5. GCSE Science and Technology subjects may in some cases be taught in ways which encourage boys to continue to study them at Advanced Level while discouraging girls although it must be remembered that females are more likely than males to opt for Biology and that the gender difference in Chemistry entry is small.
  6. As with females once  subjects are strongly perceived as predominantly "male" or predominantly "female" subjects self-fulfilling prophecies may operate as males continue to choose "male" subjects and females continue to choose "female" subjects.

Nevertheless we must note also that traditional gender differences in socialisation may now be smaller, especially perhaps in the case of academically successful [and mainly but not entirely middle class students] , that some attempts are being in schools to undermine traditional patterns of subject choice , that it has always been well known that good qualifications in Arts and Humanities as well as the sciences can open up good career opportunities for boys as well as girls and that an increasing number of females are now employed in occupations such as Medicine, Law and Business administration which were once dominated by men. These factors would help to explain any decline in traditional gender differences in subject choice at GCSE and Advanced Levels . Nevertheless it is abundantly clear that significant gender differences in subject choice at Advanced level and tare even greater in Higher Education.

Gender differences in subject choice may be explained in general terms by the following interconnected factors :

  1. Gender differences in socialisation operating via the family, the school, the peer group, the local community and the mass media.
  2. Overall perceptions of particular subjects as primarily "male" or "female " subjects.
  3. Apparent gender differences in ability in different subjects which themselves may be explicable in terms of gender differences in socialisation although some analysts have argued for a biological basis for gender differences in subject abilities.
  4. Processes and teaching styles operative in schools which in the past have encouraged females toward Arts and Humanities and discouraged them from choosing Maths, Science and Computing while encouraging boys to opt for Maths, science and Computing in preference to Arts and Humanities subjects.
  5. The existence of some single sex schools  and the introduction of some single sex classes in co-educational schools may have some bearing on subject choice.
  6. Gender differences in employment opportunities
  7. .
  8. The significance of these  factors may have altered significantly for some students but not others.

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