Reappraising the Gendered Determinants of Success on the Occasion of International Women’s Day

Recently, the Economist took stock of what I call the gendered determinants of success, looking at male and female educational and employment performance. (Gender still often gets divided into male and female, but that’s another story) It focused largely on a report released March 5 by the OECD, The ABC of Gender Equality and Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, and noted trends that are increasingly entrenched, themselves become constructed realities of gendered pathways in education: girls, who do their homework, follow the teacher’s rules, and read outside of the classroom, are outperforming boys all the way through elementary and secondary education. Boys, who are more likely to be unruly and disciplined by teachers, who have turned off reading and turned to video games, and are less likely to do homework, are falling behind in all the 64 countries the OECD surveyed, in many cases, the equivalent of a whole year behind.

Yet, in math and science, the confidence to achieve and self-report their knowledge remains lower for girls and in boys and this also persists in patterns of lower enrolments of women in higher education in these and related technical fields. Indeed, women’s higher university enrolment in all regions of the world have soared over the world, as the following image illustrates: Economist Storming the Ivory Towers


Yet, as the Economist article continued, scaling the heights of higher education have not translated in achieving gender parity and closing the gender wage gap at work. They write, “in the workplace, says Elisabeth Kelan of Britain’s Cranfield School of Management, “traditional patterns assert themselves in miraculous ways”.” Indeed, in many high-powered career fields from business to politics to medicine to law, the traditional pattern of double duty, the dual responsibility of working outside the home as well as working inside the home, taking care of a household and bearing and raising children, falls onto women to bear and equally miraculously, to balance.

Moreover, the gendered pathways into education become even more defined in the rural communities of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, as the UN Women’s Beijing +20 Campaign poignantly depicts. There, girls dominate those out-of-school and where poverty, cultural systems that favour boys over girls, the distance to travel to school, child marriage and the lack of sanitation and toilets increasing girls’ exposure to violence, make the gendered educational gaps more pronounced.

On International Women’s Day, may I suggest that, inspite of the outstanding educational achievement rates of girls and women, from primary to postsecondary, we simultaneously recognize the gendered determinants of success, from doing homework and obeying the teacher, to having less confidence in math and science to bearing the responsibility of double duty, and to the cultural, economic, and geographic barriers that prevent many of the world’s girls from even attending school.


Economist (2015), The Weaker Sex, March 7.

OECD (2015), The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris.

UN Women’s Being +20 Campaign (2015), Infographic on girls’ and women’s education

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