Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.
Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…
A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)
Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement
Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.
Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice
Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.
Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.
No More Boys and Girls (BBC, August 2017) BBC programme documents a 6 week experiment in gender neutrality carried out with one year 3 primary school class in primary school on the Isle of White…. Can our kids go gender free?
Doctor Javid Abdelmoneim (*) believes that these attitudes are not just the result of biology, but down to socialisation, and so establishes a gender neutrality experiment, conducted on one class of year 3s, in which he removes all traces of gender differentiation for a 6 week period, finally testing them to see if ‘typical gender differences’in things such as self-confidence and spatial awareness have been reduced (*I recommend you check out the above profile, on Al Jazeera, he seems like an interesting character!)
The rational for doing this research now is that these children have lived their entire lives under the equality act, which was passed in 2010, emphasizing that men and women should be treated the same.
Thankfully, some generous sole has kindly done the BBC’s job for them and provided an effective and just service to license fee payers by uploading the documentary to YouTube, which the BBC itself only made available for a short time on iplayer, a totally unreasonable action given the cost of the licence fee. Here is said video:
The documentary finding, however, suggest that this is far from the case, and there are several differences in terms of attitudes about what boys and girls should do, and how the teachers treat boys and girls.
The programme starts with a few clips of boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards gender, which suggests that they have very set views about what they suited to do in the future, in which various girls and boys say that:
‘If a woman has a baby, the man will have to get a job to look after them.’
‘Men are better at being in charge.’
‘Men are more successful because they could have harder jobs and earn more.’
‘I’d describe girls as pretty, dresses, lipstick and lovehearts’
‘boys are cleverer than girls because they get into president more easily’.
There are also early observations of one class in which the teacher clearly uses gender specific terms for girls and boys – calling the girls ‘love’, and boys ‘mate’, for example.
But why do gender differences between boys and girls exist?
Dr Javid visits a neuro-scientist who helpfully tells us that there appears to be very few structural differences in the brains of boys and girls, and thus gender differences are not biologically determined, but exist because of socialisataion – their experiences have taught them different skills and different mental attitudes.
Research from Stanford University suggests that seven is a key age in the development of gender identity, because it is at this age that boys and girls start to develop fixed ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, thus Dr Javid’s experiment should be able to change gendered expectations of boys and girls.
Dr Stella Something now comes in from the UCL psychometric lab to subject boys and girls to what seems to be a pretty rigorous series of activities aimed to measure….
Their levels of self-esteem
Their perceived intelligence
Their understanding and levels of empathy
Their levels of assertiveness
How good they are at resisting impulses
How much vocabulary they have to describe their emotions
Levels of classroom behavior, hyperactivity and
The basic findings (which are corroborated by the class teacher) are that:
Girls underestimate their levels of self-esteem, intelligence and assertiveness: three times as many boys overestimated their perceived intelligence, and girls were more likely to underestimate it. 50% of the boys described themselves as ‘the best’, compared to only 10% of girls.
Boys cannot seem to express their emotions – girls were more able than boys to provide ‘similar words’ to describe every emotional cue-word given to them, except for anger.
Girls tendED to describe themselves through words about looks (such as ‘pretty’ and ‘lipstick’)
The Control Group
Another, very similar year 3 class which had a regular 6 weeks of teaching was also tested alongside the experimental group to act as a control.
Dr Javid turns up on day one and tells the pupils about the experiment – he basically tells them he wants to ensure than boys and girls are treated the same, because they can all do as well as each other, and he then gives them a load of signs saying such things as ‘girls are strong’ to challenge gender stereotypes, which they put up around the classroom.
For further details you’ll need to watch the programme…. for now – I’ll update with the rest when I get time!
The school where this experiment took place is Lanesend Primary School, on the Isle of Wight, with 300 boys and girls aged 5 to 11,
Meet the Natives involves five people from a tropical island visiting a ‘strange land called England’, where they find many of the customs unusual.
At various points throughout the video the ‘natives’ from Oceania have problems understanding British dinner rituals, the food we eat, housework/ the amount of stuff we have and even the concept of wearing clothes.
Videos like this are a great way to introduce the ‘sociological imagination’ to students, because they are shot from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ and remind us that many of our taken for granted activities are actually quite unusual….
In sociology, it is essential to understand the social context in which human behaviour takes place – and this involves understanding the culture in which social action occurs.
Culture is a very broad concept which encompasses the norms, values, customs, traditions, habits, skills, knowledge, beliefs and the whole way of life of a group of people.
To give two specific, and classic definitions of the term culture:
Ralph Linton (1945) defined the culture of a society as ‘the way of life of its members: the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’.
Clyde Kluckhohn (1951) described culture as a ‘design for living’ held by the members of a particular society.
To a large degree, culture determines how members of society think and feel: it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life. Culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of society.
In order to survive, any newborn infant must learn the accepted ways of behaving in a society, it must learn that society’s culture, a process known as socialisation, which sociologists tend to split into two ‘phases’ – primary and secondary.
Primary socialisation takes place in the family: the child learns many social rules simply by copying its parents, and responding to their approval or disapproval of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, which is taught through a variety of rewards and punishments, such as simple praise, treats, smacking and the naughty step.
Secondary socialisation takes place outside of the family in other social institutions including the education system, the peer group, the media, religion and the work place.
Many (though not all) sociologists argue that the norms and values we pick up through these institutions encourage us to act in certain ways, and discourage us from acting in others, and, just as importantly, they ‘frame’ our worldviews in subtle ways – encouraging us value certain things that other cultures might think have no value, or discouraging us to ask certain ‘critical questions’.
Just some of the ways these institutions might subtly shape our behaviour include:
Religion – reinforces basic moral codes such as ‘not killing’, ‘not stealing’, and the value of monogamous relationships, sanctioned by marriage.
Education – teaches us the value of tolerating people with different views from ourselves, the value of teamwork and the idea of the individual work ethic – ‘if I work hard I can achieve’.
The Media – through advertising, it teaches us that high levels of consumption of products are normal, and through the over-representation of skinny, beautiful, young people, it encourages to spend time and money to look good.
Socialisation is not simply a process in which individuals just passively accept the values of a society – children and adults actively reflect on whether they should accept them, and some choose to actively engage in ‘mainstream’ culture, others just go along with it, and still other reject these values, but those who reject mainstream culture are very much in a minority, while most of us go along with mainstream norms and values most of the time.
Socialisation and the process of learning social norms
Part of the socialisation process involves learning the specific norms, or informal rules which govern behaviour in particular situations.
There are literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of social norms which govern how people act in specific places and at specific times – the most obvious ones being dress codes, ways of speaking, ways of interacting with others, body language, and the general demeanor appropriate to specific situations.
Social norms are most obvious at key events in the life course such as weddings and funerals, with their obvious rituals (which would be out of place in most other situations) and codes of dress, but they also exist in day to day life – there is a ‘general norm’ that we should wear clothes in public, we are generally expected to turn up to school and work on time, to not push in if there’s a queue in a shop, and we are also generally expected to politely ignore strangers in public places and on public transport (1) (2)
Norms also vary depending on the characteristics of the person – for example, whether you are male or female, or young or old, but more of that later.
Cross cultural differences in social norms
One of the best ways of illustrating just how many social norms we have in Britain is to look at examples of other cultures which are far removed from our own – such as traditional tribes who still exist in parts of South America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa. By reflecting on how different the norms are in these other cultures, we get a good idea of just how many aspects of our day to day lives we take for granted.
For example the San Bushmen of Southern Africa have very different norms surrounding material culture – because they are hunter gatherers, they own very few items, and traditionally their economy was a gift economy, rather than a money economy. Thus, in this culture, money has no value, and ‘stuff’ is simply a burden.
The Sanema, who live in the rain forests of Brazil and Venezuela, have a radically different belief system in which dreams are as important as ‘waking reality’:
The Sanema believe in a dream world inhabited by the spirits of everything around them. The trees, the animals, the rocks, the water all have a spirit. Some can be used to heal, others to bring disaster and death.
Four out of five Sanema men are practicing shamans and it is in their dreams that the spirits visit them. The main work of the shamen is to dispel the evil spirits they believe cause illnesses, and to do this they induce a trance by taking powerful hallucinogenic drug, sakona, made from the dried sap of the virola tree.
In Sanema culture, it is perfectly usual for these shamans to be off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs, ‘warding off evil spirits’ in the middle of the day, while other people go about their more ‘ordinary’ (by our standards) business of cooking, washing, cleaning, or just chillaxing (typically in hammocks).
There are many other examples that could be used to illustrate the extreme variations in social norms across cultures – such as differences in how cultures treat children, or differences in gender norms, the point is that none of these behaviours are determined by biology or physical environment – we’re all pretty much the same as a biological species – these cultural differences are simply to do with social traditions, passed down by socialisation.
Historical differences in social norms
Social norms also change over time – the most obvious being how norms surrounding childhood and gender have changed, as well as norms surrounding expenditure and consumption.
The fact that social norms change over time again shows that biological differences cannot explain historical variations in human behaviour, and also raises the important point that individuals have the freedom to change the norms they are born into.
(1) To illustrate just now many social norms govern our lives, you might like to read this post: how social norms structure your day (forthcoming post)
(2) Some sociologists (and sociologicalish commentators) are very critical of many of our social norms – suggesting variously that they are just not necessary, too restrictive of individual freedom, or even downright harmful – for more on this – see this post: Social Norms – the unnecessary and the harmful (forthcoming post).
Sources used to write this post
Haralambos and Holborn (2013): Sociology Themes and Perspectives
A selected list of some of the most important key terms in AS Level and A Level Sociology – families and households. NB this is not an exhaustive list, just a starting point!
Bean Pole Family
A family with a long, thin structure. For example, there might be 4 generations alive, but each generation hasn’t had many children. This is a 21st century example of an extended family, but its members are more likely to live apart than in the past.
The number of babies born per thousand per year.
The legally or formally recognised union of a man and a woman (or in some countries two people of the same sex) in a committed relationship.
Two people living together in the same household in an emotionally intimate, committed relationship without being officially married.
Commercialisation of Housework
Where new technologies lead to new products which people can buy which reduces the amount of domestic labour people have to do at home – e.g. hoovers, washing machines, microwaves and microwave meals reduce the amount of time spend cleaning, washing and cooking.
The number of deaths per thousand members of a population per year.
When someone does both paid work and a significant amount of the domestic labour, such as housework at home. According to radical feminists, it is mainly women who suffer this.
Refers to things to do with money – for example how wealth a society is and the amount of wealth and income an individual or family has.
Thinking about the emotional well-being of other members of the family and acting in ways which will be of emotional benefit to others. For example, hugging and reassuring children when they have nightmares, organizing Christmas and birthday parties so that everyone feels included and has a good time.
Family beyond the traditional nuclear family, incorporating aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the traditional extended family, members live in the same household, in more modern extended families
The ‘expected’ patterns of behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity – for example, femininity = caring, masculinity = competitive.
The social positions and occupations we associate with men and women – for example we tend to associate the caring role with women, and the ‘provider role’ with men.
Globalisation (simple definition) – The increasing interconnectedness of societies across the globe.
Refers to the ways in which the ideas spread through institutions work top maintain the power of dominant groups in society.
The process where individuals have more freedom to make life-choices and shape their identities because of a weakening of traditional social structures, norms and values. For example, secularization means people have more choice over whether they should get married or simply cohabit.
The provider or breadwinner role which involves going out to work and earning money for the family – the traditional male role within the family.
A family structure in which mothers are the heads of household and fathers have less power and control in family life and the allocation of resources.
Moving from one country or area to another.
Vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. Negotiated families are more equal than traditional nuclear families, but more unstable. This is the typical type of family in postmodern society.
The difference between the numbers of people immigrating to and emigrating from a country.
Nuclear Family – A man and a woman and their dependent children, either their own or adopted.
A society where men hold the power and women are excluded, disadvantaged or oppressed. An example of a patriarchal society is one which women are not allowed to vote, but men are.
Personal Life Perspective
A sociological perspective which believes we should understand family life from the perspective of the individuals who make up the family, focusing on the diverse ways in which different individuals within the family define and perceive their own experiences of family life.
The view that social changes (such as globalisation and more consumerism) since the 1950s have resulted in a world in which individuals have much more choice and freedom than is suggested by Modernists social theories such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism.
The first stages of learning the norms and values of a society; learning basic skills and norms, such as language, and basic manners.
Where an individual has a string of committed relationships, one after the other.
Social Construction of Childhood
The idea that the norms and values and social roles associated with childhood are influenced by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a child.
Symmetrical Family – A family in which the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical are more similar. There are three elements:
– Both men and women do paid work.
– Men and women both do housework.
– Couples spend their leisure time together rather than separately
Total Fertility Rate
The average number of babies a woman will have during her fertile years (15-44).
Where social changes, especially the invention of new technologies, does increasing amounts of harm to children. For example, the internet and mobile phones results in screen saturation with increases anxiety and reduces attention spans.
Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.
Female socialization, traditional female roles and low female crime rates
Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.
The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.
Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.
It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’. Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.
One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.