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Explaining Persisting Gender Inequalities in Aspirations and Attainment: An Integrative Developmental Approach

Ingrid Schoon

Abstract


Major strides have been made regarding educational and occupational opportunities for women. Yet women continue to be paid less than men, even for doing the same task. Furthermore, males and females tend to pursue different subject courses and occupations, with women being under-represented in certain fields, especially science, technology, engineering and maths. This is thus not the time to become complacent. A number of explanations for persisting gender inequalities have been put forward , including gender essentialism, socialisation experiences and the choices men and women make, as well as downright discrimination. In this paper I introduce a developmental-contextual model of motivated choice and behaviour and take a complex systems view to argue that for a better understanding of and response to persisting gender inequalities one has to take into account multiple influences that occur over the life course. Early experiences in the family and school contexts cumulate to shape self-concepts, choices and behaviours which in turn become part of the gendered social world. Gender differences become apparent in early childhood and are re-created through everyday social relations with significant others as well as by interactions with the wider social context. Small biasing effects can accumulate across different situations and over time, leading to distinct behavioural pathways for men and women who might have similar capabilities and social backgrounds. To instigate change in perceptions and behaviour it is important to raise awareness of existing inequalities, and to foster equality-promoting policies and institutional reform. 


Keywords


Gender differences, aspiration, attainment, life course

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