Gender Segregation in Vocational Education: Volume 31

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(19 chapters)
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This introductory chapter develops the overall research focus and the aim of the present special issue ‘Gender segregation in vocational education’. Against the backdrop of strong horizontal gender segregation in vocational education and training (VET), we ask how institutional arrangements affect gendered (self-)selection into VET, and to what extent the patterns of the latter vary by context and over time. In order to expand our knowledge about the impact of educational offers and policies on gendered educational pathways and gender segregation in the labour market, we have gathered comparative quantitative studies that analyse the relationship between national variations in the organization of VET and cross-national differences in educational and occupational gender segregation from an institutional perspective. Following a review of the core literature within the field of gender segregation in VET, this introduction presents a discussion of education system classifications and institutional level mechanisms based on the contributions made in this volume. We then discuss gendered educational choices at the individual level, with particular emphasis on variation across the life course. Finally, we conclude our introductory chapter by commenting on the main contributions of the volume as a whole, as well as addressing suggestions for further research.

Part I: International Comparisons


This chapter provides an overview of the results from a cross-nationally comparative project analysing gender differences and inequalities at labour market entry. Women’s relative gains in educational attainment and the expansion of the service sector suggest that gender inequalities in occupational returns are diminishing or even reversing. In assessing gender differences at labour market entry, we look at a phase of the life course when women’s family roles are still of minor importance. Conceptually, we distinguish between horizontal segregation and inequalities in vertical outcomes. The project was based on 13 in-depth case studies contributed by a network of scholars analysing countries with different institutional, socio-economic and cultural settings. The findings demonstrate that occupational gender segregation is still relatively marked among recent cohorts, though it is slightly decreasing over time in several countries. In terms of vertical inequalities, the case studies consistently revealed that while women enter more prestigious jobs than men in most countries, there is a female disadvantage in economic returns among recent labour market entrants. In addition, we found mixed evidence on the variations of gender equality at labour market entry across countries with different institutional characteristics.


This chapter seeks to provide insights into a hitherto neglected topic – that of gender segregation among those who have taken part in vocational education and training (VET). In spite of a growing body of work on the link between educational and occupational segregation by gender, relatively little attention has been given to the specific role played by VET in facilitating gender-specific occupational segregation. Using the European Social Survey (ESS) for 20 European countries and comparable macro data from different European sources, the study examines the extent to which cross-national differences in the gender-typical or atypical occupational allocation of vocational graduates aged 20–34 can be attributed to VET-specific institutional differences.

The findings are consistent with earlier research showing the protective role played by VET in reducing non-employment levels. The findings in relation to the gender-typing of work are somewhat surprising, as they indicate that VET system characteristics make relatively little difference to occupational outcomes among women, whether or not they have a VET qualification. Slightly stronger, but still modest, relationships are found between VET system characteristics and occupational outcomes for men. Male VET graduates are more likely to be in a male-typed job in systems with a higher proportion enrolled on vocational courses. In tracked systems, however, they also tend to be more likely to enter female-typed jobs. In systems where VET prepares people for a wider range of occupations, a VET qualification can act as a protective factor against non-employment, at least for men.


How do institutional settings and their embedded policy principles affect gender-typed enrolment in educational programmes? Based on gender-sensitive theories on career choice, we hypothesised that gender segregation in education is higher with a wider range of offers of vocational programmes. By analysing youth survey and panel data, we tested this assumption for Germany, Norway and Canada, three countries whose educational systems represent a different mix of academic, vocational and universalistic education principles. We found that vocational programmes are considerably more gender-segregated than are academic (e.g. university) programmes. Men, more so than women, can avoid gender-typed programmes by passing on to a university education. This in turn means that as long as their secondary school achievement does not allow for a higher education career, they have a higher likelihood of being allocated to male-typed programmes in the vocational education and training (VET) system. In addition, social background and the age at which students have to choose educational offers impact on the transition to gendered educational programmes. Overall, gender segregation in education is highest in Germany and the lowest in Canada. We interpret the differences between these countries with respect to the constellations of educational principles and policies in the respective countries.


Gender-specific segregation of occupations has remained a typical characteristic of contemporary labour markets. From an individual perspective, (gender-)specific positioning in the labour market is the result of longer-term developments over the life course; these may be influenced by specific macro-level conditions. For example, education and training systems may differ in the information they provide for individual educational and occupational decisions and in the biographical consequences of these decisions. This chapter analyses the potential relevance of education and training systems for gender-specific occupational expectations at a comparatively young age. The empirical analyses use data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000, 2003 and 2006 and from the European Labour Force Survey (ELFS), comparing occupational gender segregation in early individual expectations and in the labour force across 22 European countries. In a multi-level analysis, expectations are related to both individual-level predictors and characteristics of education and training systems. The results show that anticipated choices of gender-specific occupations are loosely related to characteristics of education and training systems. In particular, the degree of vocational enrolment seems to enforce the level of segregation. However, these associations are group-specific and rather small. Education and training systems also tend to have different consequences for the expectations of young women and young men. Gender segregation already exists at early biographical stages, but it is often modified by later adaptation and the selective behaviour of institutions and employers.

Part II: Intra-National Comparisons


This study seeks to ascertain whether there are regional gender differences in vocational education in Bulgaria at the upper secondary level and to shed more light on the main factors for the (non-)emergence of these differences. The research has drawn on data from the National Statistical Institute and the Centre for Information in Education in Bulgaria as well as a nationally representative school-leavers survey (2014); it has applied descriptive statistics and multilevel modelling for the data analysis. Overall, the present study demonstrates that the regional dimension is indispensable for understanding the development of vocational education and gender differentiation in education. The analysis provides evidence that the mechanism by which the education system contributes to regional gender segregation in vocational education is its opportunity structures at the regional level, which are related to vocational education offers. In addition, we found a positive association between industrial development and the share of women in engineering at the regional level.


This chapter examines the dynamics of occupational segregation by gender in the German vocational training system (VET) and explores the validity of two hypotheses regarding the causes of changes in the sex composition of occupations. According to the first, the ‘job growth hypothesis’, feminisation of occupations occurs when women increasingly enter growing employment sectors that are experiencing a shortage of (preferred) male candidates. According to the second, the ‘exit hypothesis’, the movement of men out of selected occupations is the main mechanism driving the changes. Using official data from enrolment into the VET of skilled crafts for the period of 1997–2013, we find a very high level of occupational segregation, a very modest trend toward desegregation and a substantial increase of female representation in a group of selected training occupations. Our analysis implies that the rising share of female apprentices within these fields cannot be explained by an increased entry of young women into growing employment sectors, but that it mainly results from a disproportionate reduction of male participation in select occupations.

Part III: Educational Choices and The Life Course


Human beings are dependent upon social approval to strengthen their identities. Therefore, they practice impression management: They anticipate which behaviour provokes which reactions in their social environment, and they tend to exhibit the kind of behaviour that promises positive feedback. Based on the assumption that human beings also show this behaviour in their choice of vocation, we hypothesise that young people are more likely to expect negative reactions from their social environment when choosing a gender-atypical occupation. Furthermore, we assume that the expected reaction of the social environment influences vocational orientation: The anticipation of negative reactions to gender-atypical vocational choice might contribute to explain why young people ignore this occupation. We tested both hypotheses with the help of data retrieved from a survey of young people in Germany who are interested in vocational education and training (VET). The results support our hypotheses; however, they also show that the relevance of a gender-typed vocational choice is weaker if adolescents have a higher educational background. In this case, the choice of an occupation that expresses a high educational status becomes more important. It may lead to an exclusive kind of social approval that is denied to people with a lower educational background.


In this chapter, we take up the distinction between applied and general fields of study in order to consider how patterns of gender stratification between them may differ. Purporting to offer industry- and firm-specific skills, applied fields of study are often differentiated from general education pathways that are offered within the university sector. However, as our research demonstrates, there is considerable interplay between these two forms of education when higher education engagement over the life course is examined. Using sequence and cluster analysis, we illustrate five ideal-typical higher education pathways in a sample of males and females over a 22-year period in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The gendered patterns of how individuals choose and move between general and applied fields of study offer a deeper account of stratification within general and applied skill acquisition and provide nuance concerning how vocational education can be conceptualised in relation to the actual higher education pathways students undertake. In Canada, where a high percentage of students gain university-level credentials, vertical and horizontal gender stratification within applied and general fields of study is distinctive and highlights system-specific engagement.


Young men and women dominate different niches of science education in Australia, but how this divide varies between university and post-secondary vocational education and training (VET) is not well understood. Therefore, I compare courses in both sectors to assess if the male–female gap at later stages of education mirrors adolescent career plans and subject choices made in secondary school. Multinomial logistic regressions estimated on data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (Y06) illustrate the extent to which the gender divides in secondary and post-secondary education correspond with one another. Y06 started with the 2006 Australian Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Each year until 2013, a nationally representative sample of youth, who were nearly 16 years old in 2006, reported their schooling and work experiences. I find that Australian women rarely specialise in physics, engineering and technology (PET); in contrast, they dominate the life sciences. While post-secondary science is segregated by gender everywhere, the disparity within VET is much deeper due to a large share of PET enrolments. VET students, who come from modest socio-economic backgrounds and have less academic success at school, learn in more segregated environments than their university peers. This analysis suggests that gender divides will be particularly hard to close within post-secondary VET, even if schools succeed in eradicating gender differentials in students’ career aspirations, science performance, self-concept and choices of science subjects.

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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