Choices and expectations perpetuate higher education gap and gender pay gap, UCL research finds

Teenagers’ own career aspirations could be perpetuating both the gender pay gap and the higher education gap, a study from researchers at UCL Institute of Education (IOE) suggests. The new research reveals that, while teenage girls are more likely than teenage boys to have high hopes of going to university and having a professional or managerial occupation, when it comes to salaries it’s the boys who are aiming highest. The research team at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), analysed data collected from over 7,700 teenagers in the UK who are all part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a study which has followed their lives since they were born at the turn of the century. When they were 14, the teenagers were asked a series of questions to find out their future aspirations.

Overall, the teenage girls set their sights higher than the boys when thinking about their education prospects. On average, girls thought they had a 71 per cent chance of going to university, and 14 per cent of girls were 100 per cent certain they would go. Boys were less sure; their average expectation was 63 per cent, and just under 10 per cent were absolutely convinced they would get to university.

But when it comes to their dream jobs, compared to boys, the average hourly wage for the occupations that girls aspired to was a striking 27 per cent or £6.49 lower.
For girls, the most popular jobs they aspired to were: the medical profession (8 percent), a secondary school teacher (8 percent), a singer (6 percent), working in the legal profession (5 percent), a vet (5 percent), a nurse (4 percent) and a midwife (4 percent).

The most popular for boys were: a professional sportsman (12 percent), a software developer (6 percent), an engineer (6 percent), being in the Armed Forces (4 percent), an architect (4 percent) and a secondary school teacher (4 percent).

While the most popular jobs for both boys and girls included some highly-paid careers, the pay among the jobs girls aspired to was, on average, much lower. This remained the case even after excluding from the calculations aspirations among a number of the boys to be (highly-paid) professional sportsmen.

Girls and boys both tended to want jobs where the workforce was dominated by their own sex. Boys chose occupations with an average workforce that is 74 percent male and 26 percent female. Girls chose jobs where women make up 59 percent of the workforce. Gendered occupational segregation is a key component of the pay gap, and girls’ and boys’ teenage aspirations suggest that this is set to continue.

Dr Sam Parsons, one of the authors of the study, said: “We were surprised to find such gendered differences in young people’s aspirations. Despite aiming high academically and professionally, girls still appear to be aiming for less well-paid jobs.”

Professor Lucinda Platt, co-author, added: “Our findings drive home the importance of recognising the role of both boys’ and girls’ choices in perpetuating labour market inequalities. At school and at home, girls and boys should be encouraged and supported to think beyond gender stereotypes and explore the full range of future career options open to them.”