Gender plays a decisive role when we chose our education, which in turn lays the groundwork for a gender-segregated job market. A research project at the Department of Psychology has examined why men and women make gender stereotypical choices regarding education.
Text by Karin Berg
Translated by Viktor Jönsson
Illustrations by Élodie Chagrot
There is a widespread horizontal gender segregation in Sweden, which means that men and women are divided into different branches of occupation – men in technical areas, and women in health and social care. Yet, at the same time, there is extensive international research which shows that there are no psychological differences between men and women.
“Based on this knowledge, it’s really skewed that we chose so different educations. It must mean that there are individuals who would be more comfortable if they chose an education that is uncommon for their gender”, says Una Tellhed, university lector at the Department of Psychology.
In 2013, Una Tellhed started a research project at the Department of Psychology, with the objective to examine this issue, together with the professors Martin Bäckström and Fredrik Björklund, and the project assistants Anna Jansson and Stefan Persson. The study is not yet concluded, as their intent is to write at least two more articles based on the data produced in the project. In the study, the researchers have above else established that women generally doubt whether they are competent enough to finish a technical education. This could be an explanation for why women do not choose technical educations. Threatening stereotypes, the fear that bad performance will validate negative stereotypes, make us question our capacity.
“And if you think you’re not good at something, then you chose not to do it”, says Una Tellhed.
The research also shows that the expected well-being during the studies plays a large part. Una Tellhed says that both men and women think they will enjoy the education if it is dominated by their own legal gender. Therefore, she points out that this is important to work with if we want to see change.
How do you think Lund University is shouldering this responsibility?
“My experience is that the Faculty of Engineering is very good on this topic. They want women there and make a lot of effort to get them to be comfortable”, says Una Tellhed.
She does, however, think that the interest is a lot weaker from the female-dominated areas when it comes to getting more men into the respective fields of education.
“This is how it generally is in society, you have invested a lot in getting women into male-dominated areas, but not the other way around”, she says.
Una Tellhed points out that while it is possible to work politically with preventing stereotypical gender choices in education, and a lot can be done on an individual level too. Above all, she feels that we should be mindful of the focus we place on differences between the genders.
“Women and men are psychologically the same. If we start talking about that instead of gender differences, it eliminates the negative threatening stereotypes towards women”, she says.