Izaskun Zuazu (UPV/EHU)

Trends and potential drivers of horizontal gender segregation in higher education: evidence from 26 OECD economies

Room: TBA

Hour: 12.00


The reversal of the gender participation gap in higher education over the last three decades in Western countries came along with the concentration of female and male graduates in gender-typical fields of study. Generally speaking, women concentrate in humanistic and care-related fields, whereas men concentrate in technical and science fields. This phenomenon, the so-called horizontal gender segregation in education, has been associated with daunting implications in female future earnings and career prospects, the gender pay gap, human capital accumulation and economic growth.

This paper employs a highly informative panel database of 26 OECD economies over 1998-2012 to study the trends and drivers of gender horizontal segregation in higher education. The contribution is two-fold: First, I combine the use of conventional indices of segregation with the log-linear modelling approach of Charles and Grusky (1995). These alternative measures display a persisting pattern of gender segregation in OECD higher education systems.

Second, I provide a panel data fixed-effects analysis that uncovers some drivers of horizontal gender segregation. I test for theoretical explanations of gender segregation in higher education and labour markets formulated in rational choice theory, gender economics and sociology.

The results suggest that higher female occupational status in the labour market and female labour force is associated with a reducing effect in segregation levels. To the contrary, certain educational institutions -such as early educational tracking and the breadth of vocational education-, seem to promote gender segregative in higher education. The proposed specification also accounts for the effects of cultural values and gender role attitudes -proxied by the World Value Survey-, gender gaps in academic performance -PISA results in reading, math and science-, among other potential drivers of gender segregation. The results are robust to alternative specification and estimation techniques.

Finally, the paper debunks the modernization theory -that predicts that higher economic development will bring down the level of gender segregation. These results might shed some light into the Scandinavian paradox, where rich countries have also highly segregated higher education systems and labor markets. Ultimately, the overarching insights of this analysis might inform current theory and provide empirical evidence to support the gender egalitarian design of educational systems.


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