Gender, academic abilities and postsecondary educational choices

Tarvo Vaarmets (Department of Finance and Economics, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Publication date: 2 July 2018



Gender inequalities in higher education have attracted interest in the academic literature. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


The author uses standardized high school final exam results and probit regression analysis to contribute to this highly important discussion.


Based on secondary, non-survey data, female students tend to outperform males in subjects requiring creativity. Consistent with this comparative advantage, female students also tend to be more affected by their abilities in choosing and preferring the related field of humanities as a higher education. In line with female students’ choices, the results presented in the paper confirm that men are more inclined toward exact and natural sciences, even though they do not prove to have stronger abilities in related subjects. In addition, men are also more influenced by their abilities in obtaining a professional higher education. The choice of social sciences is quite similarly affected by the academic abilities of men and women. The paper also provides evidence that, on average, individuals choose their field of study according to their academic abilities.


For evidence, a data set that makes it possible to relate quantitative measures of very different academic abilities to all major academic disciplines is used in the paper. This unique approach has so far been lacking in the literature due to data limitations. In other words, instead of concentrating on a specific area, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the author takes a broader view.



Tarvo Vaarmets (2018) "Gender, academic abilities and postsecondary educational choices", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 380-398

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