Sixth form girls ‘far more anxious’ about career prospects than boys

Sixth-form girls are far more anxious than boys about their ability to land a good job, which can affect the types of career they go into, research from Oxford University has found.

Students of both sexes in Years 12 and 13 already believe that men are better paid and have better prospects in the world of work, the survey of nearly 4,000 sixth-formers in a range of schools also reveals.

The research finds that sixth-form girls’ career ambitions are significantly more influenced by lifestyle factors and finding a job deemed to be “worthwhile” than boys, whose main focus is salary.

One implication of this, the researchers say, is that the types of jobs that girls favour tend to have more informal processes of entry, often at junior levels or via a succession of volunteering placements or internships.

The research findings are being presented by Jonathan Black, director of the Oxford University Careers Service, at the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) annual conference today.

It follows a survey of university graduates last year that showed a “gender gap” in the jobs that male and female students attained after leaving university. The findings will be published in the Oxford Review of Education.

Mr Black said: “Our latest research has confirmed that gender-based differences in career confidence start early. Sixth-form girls have lower confidence about their career and, compared with boys, are more concerned about each aspect of job application, and are more interested in careers that offer job security, in a cause they ‘feel good about’.

“This has the knock-on effect that girls may be self-limiting their choice of careers, especially because the types of jobs they seek often have informal entry processes (via networking or low and unpaid internships, for example).”

The research was conducted through a survey of 3,698 students from 63 different schools and colleges across the UK, including 31 coeducational and 32 single-sex schools.

Thirty-one of the schools surveyed were state schools, and 32 were independent schools.

Key findings include:

  • 56 per cent of boys and 75 per cent of girls think men receive higher pay in their jobs after university.
  • On a scale of 1 to 6 (with 6 being most confident), girls average 3.7 and boys average 4.3 when asked to rate their personal job prospects after university.
  • Using the same scale, there was no significant difference in confidence between girls in single-sex schools and coeducational ones.
  • 57 per cent of boys in all-boys’ schools expressed an interest in arts and humanities subjects at university compared with 49 per cent per cent at coeducational schools.

Oxford’s Careers Service is also developing a careers confidence programme – called “Ignite” – that is being piloted in schools.

The programme, developed with support from Newnham College, Cambridge and the GSA, is designed to help develop pupils’ assertiveness and confidence in academic, extracurricular, family, social and eventual career activities.

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