December 7, 2023

Gender parity in university careers is an objective that is still far from being achieved. This is confirmed by the most recent data available, relating to the 2020-2021 academic year, which shows that the panorama in Spanish universities continues to be segregated. On the one hand, women prefer studies related to care, such as education and health sciences; on the other, men represent the vast majority of those enrolled in careers such as engineering, mathematics, and computer science. One of the most extreme cases of gender gap occurs in the nursing career, where women represent 82% of the student body, according to data from the Integrated University Information System (SIIU). The percentage is still very high in psychology studies (76%) or in careers related to health and social services (72%). In the medical career this disparity decreases, although women continue to represent the majority of students, with 69% of enrollments.

These are some of the results of the report Gender Segregation in University Studies of the Ministry of Universities presented this Monday by the minister, Joan Subirats, the rector of the Autonomous University of Madrid, Amaya Mendikoetxea, and the doctor in Social Sciences María Ángeles Sallé, who has collaborated in the qualitative study. Education studies constitute another particularly relevant case of segregation. 64% of those enrolled in these careers are women, although in the case of Early Childhood Education they represent almost all of the students, with 92%. “These are figures inappropriate for the 21st century,” denounced the minister, who recalled that above 60% are “imbalanced situations.”

On the other hand, mathematical and scientific careers continue to be the majority territory of men. The most evident difference can be seen in computer studies, where 86% of those enrolled are men. They are followed by engineering (74%), and Mathematics and Statistics (64%).

Mendikoetxea, who is also the Equality delegate of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE), has pointed out the stereotypes that identify women as “protectors of the home” as the main cause of this systematic disparity. “It is curious to see that when women began to access the university a little over a century ago, they did so in those disciplines that were considered appropriate for the role of women in the family and in society, such as care and studies. of letters”, explains the rector. “For things to stay the same is inappropriate for modern times, and it is because gender stereotypes are so internalized that it seems to be a natural choice for women to choose certain careers.”

The gap becomes even wider when it comes to theoretical categories. “If physics is the discipline with fewer women, in the field of theoretical physics they do not even reach 10%. But it also happens in humanistic subjects. Women study language and literature, but fewer devote themselves to history, and are barely counted in philosophy. The perception we have is that everything that requires theoretical thinking is a prerogative of men, who are recognized as geniuses from childhood on”, affirms Mendikoetxea.

Intervene from an early age

The experts interviewed for this study agree that gender segregation in university courses is the result of sociocultural and psychosocial factors that have existed since childhood. “There are studies that show that from the age of six children have very distributed roles. The girls are hard-working and modest, while the boys are identified as geniuses”, defends Sallé.

The expert insists that the presence of segregation exists at any stage of the educational system, although she acknowledges that the gap tends to increase over the years. “Girls and boys tend to perform similarly in science up to 10 years of age. At 15 there are still no gaps in science subjects, but there are in mathematics, ”she details.

In this line, Minister Subirats has stressed the need to intervene from a very early age to “work on the models that influence childhood”. “It is essential to try to improve the educational programs so as not to participate in the silencing of many authors and researchers, to promote hybrid thinking throughout the educational itinerary and to measure the impact and evaluate the effectiveness of the actions that are being developed”, explained the minister .

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