There’s long been a kind of accepted understanding that men and women study different things at university and go on to do different jobs. There are men’s jobs and women’s jobs. We know that traditionally women have chosen areas of work in the ‘caring professions’ – nursing, teaching whilst men have chosen rather different areas. A recent article in the Guardian (13 July) says that in spite of all the efforts of the last decade to get girls to study subjects that boys have traditionally studied there is still no real change. Girls are still not choosing to study maths and engineering at university – in some cases the numbers are actually getting smaller. For example they point out that 5 years ago 24% of Computer Science students in Higher Education were women that figure is now just 19%. The kinds of subjects women now study are the more traditional ‘female’ subjects – the top 5 being medicine, veterinary Science, education, Languages and Social Studies. The lowest uptake (so I perhaps there is a perception of this being the least feminine) is engineering and technology. It’s a little surprising when you also read the most popular companies to work for in the UK now include (in the top 5) Google, Apple and Rolls Royce. Maybe the kinds of jobs men and women want to do in those companies are completely different, with men taking on the engineering and programming jobs and women taking the marketing, sales and HR types of jobs. The one subject that has equal numbers of men and women studying is Business and Administration.
For us at UIC we do notice that more women than men come to study with us – both from abroad to study English and in London to study foreign languages. It’s not that women make better language students (we certainly have no evidence for this) but just that there are more of them – so our thoughts are in agreement with the survey findings. We have no idea what this means – whether as some suggest women are better at learning languages than men or that women recognise the need for knowing a second language more than men do or just that it’s the kind of thing women do! Who knows!
In a similar line The Observer newspaper also reported young British men were often thought of as “complacent and generally hopeless”. They report 2figures show that the economic downturn caused an increase in graduate unemployment from 11.1% at the end of 2008 to 14% at the end of 2009, but interestingly the number of male graduates unemployed was 17.2% against the number of women at 11.2%. There seems to be a sense that female graduates are a little more mature and focussed. Dr McHenry (Oxford University) says that if you compare men with women you tend to get more men on the extremes, so you will find more men who are geniuses and also more lazy whereas women tend to be more hard-working and conscientious.
What we do know is that there is an ever increasing demand for learning foreign langauges and more women than men enrol for the courses. If it is the case that women are getting more and perhaps importantly more useful skills then it may just be that there will continue to be more unemployed men that women into the future!