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Page last edited: 11/09/2017

See also  Gender and Educational Achievement [PPT] ; Gender and Hidden Curriculum

 Gender and Subject Choice: Data and Explanations [You may also click here for a basic summary of this document]

Click here for Explanations of Relationships between Gender and Subject Choice 

Gender and Subject Choice:  Data Sources

This is the sixth  time that I have updated these statistics on Gender and Subject Choice . In each case I have relied mainly on the  Joint Council for Qualifications [JCQ]  website publication for GCSE and GCE Advanced Level examination results supplemented by various items from the BBC, Guardian, Independent and SchoolsWeek  websites. The document has become increasingly detailed over the years but hopefully teachers and students will be able to extract the data and links which they require without too much difficulty

 Addition here.

My own calculations  are based upon the JCQ data for all examination entrants in the UK which are the data which are given detailed coverage in the mass media immediately following the publication of the GCE Advanced Level and GCSE results in August.. The JCQ also provide information on the GCSE results of 15 and 16 year olds and these do diverge very slightly from the results of All UK Examination entrants. In my first Table of GCSE results I have given some indication of this divergence for the years 2016 and 2017 but have not included similar calculations in the subsequent tables!!.

 

 

Addition August 2016: Comparable Outcomes

GCSE and GCE Advanced Level Results improved steadily in the early 21st Century leading some to claim that this illustrated not that the quality of teaching and learning was improving but that the degree of difficulty of the examinations. Consequently both GCSE and GCE Advanced Level results have come to be determined by the use of a technique known as comparable outcomes whereby examiners seek to determine the percentages of students attaining each GCSE  grade with reference to attainment levels in Key Stage Two examinations  results and to determine percentages of students attaining each GCE Advanced Level Grade with reference to attainment levels in GCE examinations.. Usage of this system has halted the yearly improvement in GCSE  and GCE Advanced Level Grades. The following links provide further information on Comparable Outcomes.

Click here and here and here and here and here and here for information on Comparable Outcomes.

For Comparable Outcomes in 2017 click here and here

 

 

 

Links to information on GCSE and  GCE Advanced Level Results 2017

 GCSE Results 2017

GCSE  Level results for 2017 can be found here by   clicking here for the Joint Council for Qualifications Website   Note that there are also links to detailed analysis of these results and   there are also links to detailed annual statistics going back to 2001  Click here for TES article on Gender and GCSE results

GCE Advanced Level Results 2017

GCE Advanced Level results for 2017 can be found here by clicking here for the Joint Council for Qualifications Website. Note that there are also links to detailed analysis of these results and there are also links to detailed annual stastistics going back to 2001 Also click here for TES article on Gender and Advanced Level Results    and here  for an article from The Conversation   and here and here for articles from Guardian and here for a BBC article. Click here for an item on A Levels from the BBC's More or Less. Click here for a Guardian article on Gender differences in access to university

 

 

 

 

Gender and Subject Choice: Preliminary Summary

The full data on gender differences in subject choice presented in the annual Joint Council for Qualifications publications are very detailed and even my summary of them contains several tables of data which are not suitable for use under examination conditions. I hope therefore that students will find useful the following summary of the main findings from the data tables which follow.  They may then discuss with their teachers how much further statistical information will be useful for examination purposes.

  1. In relation to most of the 10 highest entry GCSE subjects gender differences in subject entry are small.
  2. These differences were negligible for the compulsory National Curriculum subjects [Mathematics, Science and English]
  3. Differences were small also for Additional Sciences  , History , Religious Studies  and Geography
  4. However the were substantial differences in entry for Art and Design  and Design and Technology  .
  5. Among the less popular subjects gender differences in subject entry for individual Science subjects were small : Biology , Chemistry and Physics .
  6. Gender differences in subject entry were substantial in French  and Spanish  but not in German There have been ongoing concerns about the decline im Modern Language  entries
  7. However in some other subjects gender differences in entry were much larger and to some extent reflected gender differences in career aspirations or and/or expectations. Thus Males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 90%+of Construction entrants were male  and 90%+ of Health and Social Care entrants were female
 

In 2017 mass media coverage of the GCSE results focused on the following issues

  • The examination systems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland diverged significantly in 2017.[see end of article]  {BBC]
  • The combined UK  A*-C and 9-4[ in the reformed subjects Maths, English and English Literature fell] by 0.6% to 66.3%.{BBC]
  • It might have been expected to fall more given the increased difficulty of the examinations but use of comparable outcomes procedures ensured that it did not. Click here for a BBC article explaining the comparable outcomes procedure. "How can GCSE Examinations get harder but results stay the same?"
  • The overall Gender gap in attainment increased : 71% of female entries were awarded A*-C or 9-4 grades compared with 61.5 % of male entries. Thus the gender gap increased to 9.5% [8.9% in 2016] {TES]
  • In Mathematics males  increased their attainment gap over females but in English Language  and English Literature Females increased their attainment gap over males which suggests that the end of course examinations did not necessarily favour males.[ TES]
  • On the other hand comparing the percentages awarded A* grades in 2016 and Grade 9s in 2017 the male lead increased in Mathematics from 0.7% to 1.1% and the female lead in English Language fell from 2.7% to 2.2 % and in English Literature from 3.3% to 2.7%  [Schools Week}
  • For further analysis click here for a Telegraph article and here for detailed analysis from education datalab

 

 

. Gender and Overall UK GCSE Pass Grades A*-C 2011- 2016  and **GCSE Pass Grades A*-C and 9-4 in 2017 in the UK .

Addition; The pass rates for UK 16 year olds diverge slightly from the pass rates for All UK entrants as indicated below where the purple  figures for 2016 and 2017 illustrate the GCSE pass grade rates  of 16 year olds..  

The UK 2017 data for A* and A pass grades are not comparable with previous years since In England the vast majority of English students in 2017 sat examinations in  Mathematics, English Language and English Literature  now graded as 9-7.

For data on the English Language, English Literature and Mathematics Results of 2017 click for the Joint Council for Qualifications Website  and scroll down to page152. 

  

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017** Comments
Total GCSE Entries 5,151,970 5,225,288 5,445,324 5,217,573 5,277,604 5,240,796    
Female Entries 2,620,074 2,662,403 2,783,039 2,664,467 2,688,739 2,661,074    
Male Entries 2,531,896 2,562,885 2,662,285 2,553,106 2,588,865 2,579,722    
Total GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 69.8% 69.4% 68.1% 68.8% 69.0 % 66.9% 69.5% 66.3%  67.8% Falls in A*-C GCSE pass rate for first time since introduction of GCSE in 1986 in 2012 and 2013. Slight increases in 2014 and 2015 but still below  2011/12 percentage. Significant reduction in A*-C  pass rate in 2016 . Another fall in 2017: "comparable outcomes ensured fall was not even greater given the increased difficulty of examinations
Female GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 73.5% 73.3% 72.3% 73.1% 73.1% 71.3% 74.1% 70.0%72.5% % Gender difference in attainment of GCSE A*-C pass grades at 8.8% in 2014  was the greatest for 10 years . Fluctuations thereafter but but gender gap in 2016 =8.9%. Gender gap increases to 9.5% 2017
Male GCSE A*-C Pass Rate 66.0% 65.4% 63.7% 64.3% 64.7% 62.4% 64.7% 61.5% 63.1%  
Total GCSE A* Pass Rate 7.8% 7.3% 6.8% 6.7% 6.6% 6.5% 6.8% 7.1% 7.3% Continual fall in Total A* GCSE Pass Rate  2011- 2016  2017 Separate A* and A pass rates for UK not yet available. They must also be combined with Grade 9 dataI hope to add these data soon.
Female GCSE A*Pass Rate 9.1% 8.7% 8.3% 8.1% 8.0% 7.9% 8.3% 8.8% 9.0% As above: continual fall  in female A* GCSE Pass Rate 2011-2016 but females continue to achieve a greater % of A* Grades than Males As above for 2017
Male GCSE A* Pass Rate 6.4% 6.0% 5.3% 5.2% 5.2% 5.0% 5.3% 5.4% 5.5% Continual Fall in male A* GCSE Pass Rate 2011- 2016 [apart from 2015]  but male  A* pass rate stable between 2014 and 2015
Total GCSE A Pass Rate 15.4% 15.1% 14,5% 14.7% 14.6% 14.0% 14.9% 14.2% 15.0% Falls in Total GCSE A Pass Rate 2011- 2013 followed by slight increase in 2014 and slight increase in 2015 and significant decline in 2016 As above for 2017
Female GCSE A Pass Rate 17.4% 16.9% 16.5% 16.7% 16,7% 16.2% 17.3% 16.2% 17.3% Falls in female A GCSE Pass Rate 2011-  2013 followed by slight increase in 2014 and stable female pass rate in 2015. Significant decline in 2016 but Females continue to achieve a greater % of A grades than Males
Male GCSE A  Pass Rate 13.4% 12.9% 12.3% 12.4% 12.3% 11.8% 12.2% 12.2% 12.8% Falls in male A GCSE Pass Rate 2011-  2012/13 followed by slight increase in 2014 and slight decline in 2015. Significant decline in 2016

  It has been argued that where overall A*-C pass grades have fallen this  can be explained to a considerable extent by the increase in early  entries of 15year old candidates who on average achieve lower grades than 16 year-olds and also because in some subjects [ especially perhaps English Mathematics and the Sciences] examination questions may have been more difficult and examination marking more rigorous. However  in September 2013 the then Secretary of State for Education announced schools' assessment criteria which have clearly led to a reduction the proportion of 15 year olds entered for GCSE examinations in 2014 which almost certainly has contributed to the increase in the 2014 GCSE A*-C pass rate .[Click here for further details from the TES] .

The Total A*-C GCSE pass rate also increased slightly in 2015 but fell significantly in 2016. Click here and here  and here for Guardian coverage and here  for BBC coverage and here for Schools Week coverage of the decline in the GCSE A*-C pass rate in 2016. The GCSE A*-C/9-4 pass rate fell also in 2017 but it is suggested that the comparable outcomes system helped to ensure that it did not fall even further given the increased difficulty of some examinations.

 

2.Gender  and GCSE Subject Choice and Results in Specific Subjects 2012 -17

Click here and then on Gender, Regional and Age Breakdown Charts for a very nice graphic on gender and subject choice for all GCSE subjects in  Summer 2017

Table 1  The 10 most popular subjects and relative popularity 2012-2017

Table 2 Languages and Sciences

Table 3  Examples of very significant gender differences in subject choice often in subjects with relatively few entries

 

  2012 [ First % Rounded] 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Mathematics 1 50%        M+0.9% 1  50.2%F    M+0.7% 1  50.7%F     M+0.2% 1  50.9%F  M+1.3% Mathematics 1 51.4%F  M+0.5% 1  Maths 50.7%F  M+1.0%  Grades 9-4 and A*-C
English 2 51% M   F+16.6% 2  50.7 %M   F+14.9% 2  50.8%M    F+15.9% 2  50.5%F   F+15.1% English 2 50.3% M  F+15.5% 2  English 51.4%M  F+17.0%  Grades 9-4 and A*-C
Science 3  53% F    F+5.0 % 4  50.1%F     F+5.9% 4  50.7%F      F+5.6% 4  50.4%F  F+6.6% English Literature3 51.2% F  F+14.9% 3  English Lit. 50.2%F F+14.3% Grades 9-4 and A*-C
English Literature 4  53%F     F+12.3% 3  55.1%F     F+11.6% 3  52.4%F      F+14.0% 3   52.0%F  F+13.9% Science4  50.3%  M  F+6.2% 4  Additional Science 50.2%F F+7.4%
Additional Science 5  51%F     F+5.7% 5  51.7%F     F+6.5% 5  51.3% F     F+5.8% 5  51.2%F   F+5.7% Additional Science5  50.3%F  F+6.1% 5 Science 50.8%M F+6.2%
Design and Technology 6  56%M    F+17.8% 9   58.4%M   F+17.8% 9  59.7%M     F+18.6% 9  60.3%M   F+18.4% Religious Studies6  53.8% F  F+14.2% 6  RS 54.1%F  F+13.6%
Religious Studies 7  54%F     F+10.3% 6   54.1%F    F+12.8% 6  53.7%F       F+13.7% 6  53.8%F   F+13.5% History7  52.0%F  F+7.8% 7 History52.4%F F+9.0%
History 8  51%M    F+7.3% 7   50.5%F    F+8.1% 7  51.4%F       F+7.1% 7  51.4%F    F+8.1% Geography8 53.1%M  F+8.6% 8 Geography 53.1%M F+ 9.1%
Geography 9  58% M   F+9.3% 8  62.7%M    F+9.0% 8  54.0%M      F+8.3% 8   53.9%M F+8.2% Design and Technology9 60.1%F  F+19.9% 9Art and Design 66%F F+18.1%
Art and Design 10  56%F   F+18.1% 10  67.0%F    F+18.1% 10 66.3%F       F+18.8% 10  66.2%F   F+18.4% Art and Design10  67.7%F  F=18.6% 10 Design and Technology61.1% F19.1% 

 

In the following table the black figures illustrate the male of female majority of subject entrants and the red figures illustrate the gender gap in attainment of A*-C GCSE pass grades. Gender difference in entry are small for the Sciences but greater for French and Spanish although the gender difference in entry for German is rather smaller. Females out performed males in every subject in every year with the exception of Physics in 2012

  2012 [Rounded%] 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Biology 52%M     F+0.8% 50.5%M     F+2.6% 50.03%M    F+1.6%  50.04% M  F+1.8% 50.3% F F+1.6%  50.8F F+2.1%
Chemistry 53%M     F+1.5% 51.3%M     F+0.8% 50.9%M      F+2.5%  51.2% M  F+2.3% 50.3%M  F+2.8% 50.2F F+3.1%
Physics 52%M     M+0.2% 51.4%M     F+0.6% 50.1%M      F+0.6%  51.2% M  F+0.4% 50.8%M F+0.2% 50.01M F+0.6%
French 58%F      F+9.5% 57.6%F      F+10.9% 57.3%F        F+11.5%  57.8%F   F+9.9% 58.6%F F+11.3% 59.3F F+10.2%
German 53%F      F+9.6% 52.0%F      F+9.1% 52.1%F        F+ 10.4%  51.2%F    F+10.1% 52,4%F  F+10.1% 52.1F F+8.4%
Spanish 58%F      F+8.9% 57.3%F       F+10.2% 56.6%F        F+10.3%  56.8% F   F+11.9% 56.8% F  F10.4% 57.2F F+9.2%

It should be noted that traditionally larger percentages of entrants for individual Sciences have been males but that these gender gaps have narrowed appreciably since 2009 and by 2014 became  very small. Since 2015 female entrants have exceeded male entrants in Biology  and this was also the case in Chemistry in 2017. Male entrants continue to narrowly exceed female entrants in Physics. Note that Female pass  rates have narrowly exceeded Male pass rates in Biology, Chemistry and Physic in every year with the exception of Physics in 2012.

Table 3  Examples of very significant gender differences in subject choice often in subjects with relatively few entries

  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
 1.Economics   69.6% M 78.2%M 68.6%M 67.9%M 68.7%M
 2,PE   65.7%M 66.1%M 66.3%M 65.5%M 65.1%M
 3.Business Studies   57.6%M 58.7%M 58.1%M 58.8%M 59.9%M
 4.ICT  Click here for a useful BBC article on the 2017 entries   58.0%M 57.2%M 57.9%M 59.4% m 61.1%M
 5. Computing Notice that the no. of entrants for computing rose from 4253[2013 ] to 62434 [2016]   85.6%M 84.7%M 84.0%M 79.9%M 80.2%M
 6. Social Sciences   68.2%F 68.0%F 69.0%F 69.3%F 69.8%F
 7. Drama   61.7%F 62.1%F 61.8%F 61.8%F 62.2%F
 8. Health and Social Care   94.8%F 94.6%F 93.4%F 93.6%F 93.9%F
9. Home Economics   87.3%F 87.8%F 88.1%F 88.1%F 87.9%F
10. Performing Arts   87.3%F 83.3%F 83.6%F 83.7%F 84.3%F
11. Construction   96.6%M 95.9%M 95.6%M 95.4%M 95.1%M
12. Technology [excl. Design and Technology]   93.3%M 94.6%M 96.1%M 95.9%M  
13. Engineering   92.7%M 93.0%M 92.6%M 88.1%M 90.2%M

Click here and then on Gender, Regional and Age Breakdown Charts for a very nice graphic on gender and subject choice for all GCSE subjects in  Summer 2017

 

Assignment

 

   Gender and  GCE Advanced Level Subject Entries

1.Gender and  Overall GCE Advanced Level  Subject Entries and Pass Grades     2011-2017: UK Students

In 2017 English students sat Advanced Level Examinations  in some reformed subjects in which the degree of difficulty had been increased and the Final examinations occurred at the end of the second year and in some unreformed modular examinations. Welsh students sat some examinations which were more difficult but with the modular examination system retained. Some indication of the changes in examination results between 2016 and 2017 for English students is given here.

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Comment
Total Entries 867,317 861,819 850,752 833,807 850,749 836,705   Fluctuating total entries . Decline in entries between 2015 and 2016
Total Female Entries 401,676 465,905 461,202 453,984 467,399 461,478   Total female entries consistently exceed total mail entries
Total Male Entries 465,641 395,914 389,550 379,823 383350 375,226    
Overall A*-E Pass Rate 97.8 98 98.1 98.0 98.1 98.1 97.9 A*-E Pass rate rose in 2012 and 2013 for 30th and 31st consecutive year. Fell in 2014 but increased slightly in 2015. No change between 2015 and 2016
Female A*-E Pass Rate 98.3 98.4 98.5 98.4 98.5 98.5 98.3 Very slight reduction in gender gap 2011-2015
Male A*-E  Pass Rate 97.3 97.5 97.6 97.4 97.5 97.6 97.3 As above
Overall A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.6 8.2 8.2 8.1 8.3 Overall A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013 but rose in 2014. Static in 2015  . Slight reduction in 2016. Slight increase 2017
Female A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.4 7.9 7.8 7.7 7.8 Female A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013;   rose in 2014; fell in 2015 and 2016. Female  A* pass rate lower than Male A* pass rate  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017
Male A* Pass Rate 8.2 8.0 7.9 8.5 8.7 8.5 8.6 Male A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013  and rose in 2014 and 2015; fell in 2016. Male A* pass rate higher  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017
Overall A Pass Rate 18.8 18.7 18.7 17.8 17.7 17.7 18.0 .Slight decline in Overall A pass rate in 2012 and a larger decline in 2014.Slight decline in 2015. Stable between 2015 and 2016
Female A Pass Rate 19.5 19.3 19.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 Female A Pass rate Higher than Male A Pass rate. Female  A Pass rates fall between 2013 and 2014 and then static in 2015 and 2016
Male A Pass Rate 18.0 17.8 18.0 17.2 17.0 17.2 17,8 Male A Pass rate lower than Female A Pass rate .Male A Pass Rate falls  between 2013 and 2014 and 2014 and 2015 and then increases in 2016
Overall A* + A Pass Rate 27.0 26.6 26.3 26.0 25.9 25.8 26.3 Overall A*+A Pass Rate falls in 2012. 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016. Rises 2017
Female A*+A  Pass Rate  27.7 27.2 26.7 26.2 26.1 26.0 26.1 2011-16 Female A*+A  Pass Rate exceeds Male A*+A pass rate because Male lead in A*pass rate is smaller than Female lead in A Pass  rate  . However gender gap narrowing and in 2017 Male A*+A pass rate exceeds Female A*+A Rate as Male A* lead exceeds female A lead
Male A* + A Pass Rate 26.2 25.8 25.9 25.7 25.7 25.7 26.6  

 

 

2.GCE Advanced Level : 10 most Popular Subjects in order of Popularity for all Students, for Females and for Males UK 2008 -17

The 10 Most Popular Subjects in Rank Order for All Students

GCE Advanced Level results for 2017 can be found here by clicking here for the Joint Council for Qualifications Website. Then  click on Other Results Information  and then on GCE Trends 2017 and look at Table 1 and Chart 1. Subsequent charts provide very useful information on changes in the relative popularity of ,for example, Science Subjects and Modern Languages. The general story in recent years has been the relative decline of Modern Language entries and the general increase in Mathematics entries. Science entries tended to increase in 2012-2014 but have  tended to fall thereafter. Click here for excellent article with data trends, including gender differences, in entry for STEM subjects.

[It is probably be unnecessary for A Level students to follow up these links which have already been presented above  but if you should require some further information about GCE Advanced Level Results in recent years the following links may be helpful...although it may be that over time some of these links may become inactive. ]

 

 

All Students 2008 All Students 2010 All Students 2012 All Students 2013 All Students 2014 All Students 2015 All Students 2016 All  Students 2017
English 89,111 English English English Mathematics 88,816 Mathematics 92,711 Mathematics 92,163 Mathematics
Mathematics,64,593 Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics English 85,336 English 89,499 English  84,710 Biology
Biology 56,010 Biology Biology Biology Biology 64,070 Biology 63,275 Biology  62,650 Psychology
General Studies 54,879 Psychology Psychology Psychology Psychology54,818 Psychology 57,014 Psychology  59,469 Chemistry
Psychology 52,706 History History History Chemistry 53,513 History 55,848 History  54,731 History
History 48,037 General Studies Chemistry Chemistry History 52,131 Chemistry 52,644 Chemistry  51,811 English Lit.
Art and Design 44,212 Art and Design Art and Design Art and Design Art and Design 44,922 Art and Design 44,864 Art and Design  43,242 Art and Design
Chemistry41,680 Chemistry General Studies Physics Physics36,701 Geography 37,195 Geography  36,363  Geography
Media/Film/TV Studies 32,749 Media/Film/TV Studies Physics Geography Geography33,007 Physics 36,287 Physics  35,334 Physics
Geography31,714 Geography Media/Film/TV Studies General Studies Sociology 30594 Sociology32,258 Sociology 33,980 Sociology

Click here for excellent article with data trends, including gender differences, in entry for STEM subjects.

Between 2015 and 2016 the rank order of the top 10 subjects remained unchanged.

Between 2016 and 2017 English was subdivided into English language and English Literature which meant English Literature occupied a lower position the i2017 rankings than did English in the 2016 rankings. Also Chemistry overtook History in the 2017 rankings

 

Exercise

A

  1. What have been the main changes in the relative popularity of the most popular GCE Advanced Level subjects since 2008?

B:

Before looking at the various following charts and tables try to answer the following questions

  1. .In the following list of subjects relating to 2016/17 there are 6 subjects which appeared in the top 10 most popular subjects for females and males, 4 subjects which appeared only in the female Top 10 and 4 subjects which appeared only in the male top 10. Can you decide which subjects appeared in which of these three categories?. Art and Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Economics, English Literature, Geography, History, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology, Media/Film/TV Studies.
  2. Once you have decided which you think are the 10 most popular Female Choices try to rank them from 1 -10 in order of female popularity.
  3. Once you have decided which you think are the 10 most popular Male Choices try to rank them in order of male popularity.
  4. What percentages of students were males and females respectively in the following subjects in 2016/17? Physics?    Mathematics? Sociology? Biology? Chemistry? History?
  5. Do you think that gender differences in subject choice have changed much in the last 2-3 years?   

The 10 Most Popular Subject Choices: Females 2008- 2017

In the following table the first figure in each column refers to the rank order of subjects within the 10 most popular female subject choices and the second figures [ in columns 5, 6 ,7, 8 and 9 }  refer to the percentages of subject entrants who were female. Notice that in Mathematics although this was the fourth most popular subject choice for females in 2014 only 38.7% of Mathematics entrants were female. Notice also that gender differences in entry for Chemistry, History and Geography were small. 

Between 2014 and 2015 the only change in rank order was that Geography overtook Religious Studies.

Between 2015 and 2016 the only change in rank order was that Sociology overtook Chemistry

Between 2016 and 2017 English was subdivided into English language and English Literature which meant English Literature occupied a lower position the i2017 rankings than did English in the 2016 rankings. This served to increase the rankings of Psychology, Biology and Mathematics by one position. Otherwise the 2017 rankings were unchanged

Table A:

 

 

Females 2008 Females2010 Females 2012 Females 2013 Females 2014 Females 2015 Females  2016 Females 2017
English 1 1 1 1   71.8 1   71.8 1 71.9 1  72.9 4 English Lit 75.6
Psychology 2 2 2 2   74.3 2   75.1 2 75.9 2  76.3 1 75.0
Biology 4 4 3 3   57.8 3   58.9 3 60.6 3  61.1 2 61.7
Mathematics 6 6 5 4   39.3 4   38.7 4  38.8 4  38.7 3 39.1
Art and Design 5 3 4 5   74.7 5   75.4 5 76.3 5  76.1 5 75.4
History 7 7 6 6   51.8 6   52.4 6  53.2 6  53.9 6 54.2
Chemistry 9 9 8 7   47.9 7   48.4 7 49.1 8  49.9 8 50.1
Sociology 8 8 7 8   75.4 8   75.7 8 76.5 7  76.9 7 77.0
Religious Studies --- --- --- --- 9   69.3 10 69.3 9  68.5 9  71.1
Geography ---  --- --- --- 10  50.0 9 50.7 10  50.0 10  50.7
General Studies 3 5 9 9   54.9  ---      
Media/Film/TV Studies 10 10 10 10  55.4  ---      

 

 

The 10 Most Popular Subject Choices: Males 2008-2017

In the following table the first figure in each column refers to the rank order of subjects within the 10 most popular male subject choices and the second figures [ in columns 5 , 6 and 7}  refer to the percentages of subject entrants who were male. Notice that in Biology and English , although these were the 4th and 6th most popular subject choices respectively  for males only 28% of English entrants and 41% of Biology entrants were male. Notice also that gender differences in entry for Chemistry, History and Geography were small. 

Between 2014 and 2015 the only changes in rank order were that History and English both rose above Biology.

Between 2015 and 2016 the only change in rank order was that Biology rose above English

Between 2016 and 2017 English was subdivided into English language and English Literature which meant English Literature dropped out of the top 10 subjects for males  and was replaced by Media/Film and TV studies [ very closely followed  Further Maths which could well enter the top 10 next year].

Table B

 

 

 

Males2008 Males2010 Males 2012 Males2013 Males 2014 Males 2015 Males 2016 Males 2017
Mathematics 1 1 1 1   60.7 1   61.3 1 61.2 1  61.3 1 60.9
Physics 6 4 3 2   79.2 2   78.9 2 78.5 2  78.4 2  78.5
Chemistry 7 6 4 4   52.1 3   51.6 3 50.9 3  50.1 3  49.9
Biology 5 3 2 3   42.2 4   41.1 6 39.4 5  38.9 4  38.3
History 4 5 6 6   48.2 5   47.6 4 46.8 4  46.1 5  45.8
English 3 2 5 5   28.2 6   28.2 5 28.1 6  27.1 -
Economics -- 10 10 7   66.8 7   67.6 7 67.6 7  67.7 6  68.7
Geography 9 9 7 8 8   50.0 8 49.3 8  50.0 7  49.3
Business Studies 8 8 8 9   58.8 9   58.0 9  59.2 9  59.2 8  59.9
Psychology -- --- --- 10 25.7 10 24.9 10 24.1  10  23.7 9  25.0
General Studies 2 7 9  ---   -- -   10 Media/TV/Film   43.7
PE 10  ---   ---   ---   --- -    

 

 

Click here for diagrammatic presentations of The 10 most popular Subject Choices : Males amd Females 2008-2017

 

 

Click here for EXCEL Charts showing the 10 Most Popular GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2014 with percentages of Male and Female entrants for each subject.

Click here for  EXCEL Charts showing the 10 Most Popular GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2015 with percentages of Male and Female entrants for each subject.

 Click here for EXCEL Charts showing the 10 Most Popular GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2016 with percentages of Male and Female entrants for each subject

 Click here for EXCEL Charts   showing the 10 Most Popular GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2017 with percentages of Male and Female entrants for each subject

 

[For each year there are 3 charts: 10 most popular subjects overall; 10 most popular subjects for females; 10 most popular subjects for males]

 

Gender and  GCE Advanced Level Subject Choice  2012 -2017: Some Further Analysis

You  may click here and consult diagram 1 for the overall pattern of gender and subject choice in 2017 across the full range of GCE Advanced Level Subjects in 2017.

We can analyse gender differences in subject choice by focussing on three  distinct questions.

In this  table are listed  the 10 subjects with the largest percentages of female and male entrants respectively in 2012-16 and the percentages of female entrants and male entrants respectively in these subjects in 2012-2016. It is shown that these percentages vary little  in most subjects between 2012 and 2016 although there are some minor changes in the rank order some subjects among females. [Also in the cases of  Welsh and Performing and Expressive Arts  the fluctuations in the percentages are greater but this is related to the fact that actual numbers choosing some of these subjects are very small].

You  may[once again]  click here and consult diagram 1 for the overall pattern of gender and subject choice at GCE Advanced Level in 2017

Subjects : substantial majority percentages of entrants are Female

2012 % 2013 % 2014% 2015% 2016% 2017%

Performing and Expressive Arts

87.7 87.9 90.1 88.4 89.8 89.5

Welsh Please note the 2017 JCQ data subdivide Welsh as First and Second Language

81.1 88.2 83.0 81.6 79.2 76.0

Sociology

75.0 75.3 75.6 76.5 76.9 77.0

Art and Design

76.3 75.2 75.3 76.3 76.1 73.4

Psychology

73.1 74.3 75.1 75.9 76.3 75.6

Communication Studies

73.2 73.0 72.4 73.2 73.1 73.9

English**** Please note that 2017 JCQ data subdivide English Language and English LiteratureL

71.2 71.8 71.8 71.9 72.9 75.6

Drama

68.5 68.7 69.4 68.5 69.3 69.5

French

68.9 68.8 68.4 69.2 68.0 68.6

Religious Studies

    69.3 69.3 68.5 71.1

Notice that  Biology, Chemistry, History and Geography are all among the top 10 favourite subjects for males and females . There was a substantial gender difference in entries for Biology [61.1%F 38.9%M 2016] but in Chemistry, Geography and History  the percentage gender differences in subject choice in  these subjects were small. [See previous table] 

           

Subjects :  substantial majority percentages of entrants are Male

           

Computing

92.2 93.5 92.5 91.5 90.2 90.2

Physics

78.9 79.2 78.9 78.5 78.4 78.5

Other Sciences

74.3 76.9 77.2 75.8 75.3 74.6

Further Mathematics

70.0 71.4 71.7 72.1 72.6 72.5

Economics

67.0 66.8 67.6 67.6 67.7 68.7

PE

65.3 64.7 65.4 63.5 61.1 60.4

ICT

61.4 62.3 63.9 64.3 64.2 67.3

Mathematics

60.7 60.7 61.3 61.2 61.3 60.9

Music

60.1 60.1 59.2 58.0 55.2 52.0

Business Studies

58.4 58.8 58.0 59.2 59.2 59.9

 you  may click here and consult diagram 1 for the overall pattern of gender and subject choice in 2017

Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics

Percentages and Numbers of Males and Females Taking Science and Mathematics A level Examinations 2012-2017  

  Males 2012 Females 2012 Males '13 Females '13 Males '14 Females '14 Males '15 Females '15 Males '16 Females '16 Males '17 Females '17
Biological Sciences 43.5  27,410 56.5  35,664 42.2  26,988 57.8  36,951 41.1   26,346 58.9   37,724 39.4  24,955 60.6  38,320 38.7  24,371 61.3  38,279

38,3 23,703

61.7 38,205

Chemistry 52.8  25,974 47.2 23,260 52.1  26,988 47.9  24,830 51 .6 27,627 49.4  25.876 50.9  26,771 49.1  25873 50.1  25937 49.9  25874

49.9 25,516

50.1  26,615
Physics 78.9  27,148 21.1  7,361 79.2  28,190 20.8  7,379 78.9   28.958 21.1  7,743 78.5  28,500 21.5  7,787 78.4  27699 21.6  7,655

78.5 28,732

21,5 7846
Mathematics 60.7  51,413 39.3  34,301 60.7   53,435 39.3  34,625 61.3   54,442 38.7  43,374 61.2  56,774 38.8  35937 61.3  56535 38.7  35628

60.9 58,032

39.1 37,2i2
Further Mathematics 70.0   9,251 30.0  3,972 71.4   9,870   28.6 3,951 71.7  10,053 21.3  3,975 72.1  10,816 27.9  4,177 72.6  11,054 27.4  4,203 72.5 11,731

27.5 4441

On the basis of this table we see that the numbers of both Males and Females opting for Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics have increased but that whereas the increase in numbers opting for Biological Sciences and Chemistry has been fairly similar for Males and Females, the increase in numbers opting for Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics has been greater for males . If these trends continue we shall not see equal numbers of males and females opting for Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics any time soon!  Click here for The Independent's coverage of gender differences in entries  in Mathematics and the Natural Sciences in 2012/13 and here for an Independent article [September 2014] on gender and Physics, Mathematics and Engineering and here for a detailed report on Women in Engineering from the IPPR.[ Pages 5-7 have nicely presented graphics]

It is well known that working class male and female students are more likely to be unsuccessful at GCSE level. These students are perhaps also more likely to have been socialised into traditional gender roles and to believe [correctly] that their employment prospects ,although limited, are best in traditional male and female  occupations. Many relatively unsuccessful female students may therefore opt for subjects such as Domestic Science or Health Care partly because they do not infringe traditional views of femininity, partly because of better employment prospects in these areas and partly because the skills gained are seen as being useful for their future roles as housewives/mothers. Relatively unsuccessful boys are likely to opt for Computing and Technology options for much the same reasons.

Gender differences in choice of Apprenticeship schemes are very marked and can surely be explained in terms of the ongoing strength of traditional socialisation processes and continuing gender differences in employment opportunities. It could indeed be argued that choices of such schemes have much more  power than do A level and Degree level subject choices to confirm or undermine traditional perceptions of femininity and masculinity. For example  opting for a bricklaying apprenticeship is more likely than opting for a Physics degree to undermine a girl's traditional sense of here femininity ...if she has one.

The Equal Opportunities Site provides information on Modern Apprenticeships in 2002/3 which indicates the very high proportions of females opting for apprenticeships in the following sectors: early years and education, Hairdressing, Travel Services and Health and Social Care and the similarly large proportions of males opting for apprenticeships in the following sectors: It and Electronic Services, Engineering, Construction, Motor Industry, Plumbing and Electro-Technical services.  Click here for good , but unfortunately slightly dated information on Gender issues from the Equal Opportunities Commission. Pages 4-9 refer to Gender and Education .

Click here for  Review of  Engineering Skills  by Professor Perkins  which indicates that it is likely that traditional gender differences in socialisation have been [and remain] especially powerful in traditionally organised families and that parents on average still tend to offer different career advice to sons and daughters and that which indicates that Males remain far more likely than females to enrol on Higher and Advanced Engineering apprenticeships.

There are also significant gender differences in Applied GCE Advanced Level Subject Choice.

Overall entries for Applied GCE Double Award Advanced levels are relatively small  but in 2015 and 2016 and 2017 entry figures were as follows Health and Social Care was entered by 1950 [1405] [1254] females and 49 [44] [40] males; , Art and Design by 152 [137] [74] females and 61 [37][23] males; Science by 211[192][163] females and 170 [190][132] males, Travel and Tourism by 60[67] [59] females and 18 [11][12]males,  Business by 507 [582][490] males and 407 [327][313] females and ICT by 227 [171][83] males and 40 [31] [10]females.

 

 

Gender, Subject Choice and Further and Higher Education

 Click here for a separate document with information on Further and Higher Education . The gendered patterns of subject choice which are established at Advanced Level occur also in Further Education and are, if anything even more marked in Higher Education.

 

Click here for Women and the Labour Market  and here for a related Podcast [ONS: September 2013].

Click here for Women in Public Life {March 2014] and here for a BBC summary of this report

Click here for article on genetics and subject choice .[Guardian June 2016]. You may like to discuss this article with your teachers bearing in mind that sociologists focus upon the social rather than the genetic influences on human behaviour.,

Click here for article from The Conversation on Gender and Choice of Computer Science [December 2016]

Click here and here and here and here for 4 recent[2016-17]  BBC articles on gender, subject choice and employment

In many past societies men and women have performed significantly different social roles and despite a range of economic, political and social changes such differences persist to a considerable extent in the contemporary world. For example in the case of the UK women are still more likely than men to take disproportionate responsibility for childcare and housework; they are more likely to opt for some types of employment than others ;their overall ir employment opportunities, although improving, are still worse than men’s and although they finally gained the right to vote in 1928 they are still much less likely than men to become local councillors, MPs or government ministers. There has been great controversy surrounding the extent to which these differences in social roles are explicable by biological sexual differences or by gender differences which are socially constructed rather than biologically determined.

It has been claimed that gender differences in childcare and housework responsibilities and in employment patterns derive from gender differences in hormonal balance, from biologically determined differences in physical strength and competitiveness and from women’s biologically determined maternal instincts. It has even been argued in the past that because males have larger brains they are on average more intelligent than females and that differing aptitudes and skills between males and females can be explained partly by differences in brain shape.

However sociologists are much more likely to argue that gender differences in social roles are mainly socially constructed and they have claimed  that in societies such as the UK the socialization process as it operated at least up to the 1970s meant that many parents socialized their daughters to show dependence, obedience, conformity and domesticity whereas boys were encouraged to be dominant, competitive and self -reliant and also that when young children saw their parents acting out traditional gender roles they would perceive these roles as natural and inevitable.

Furthermore In schools teachers praised girls for "feminine qualities" and boys for "masculine qualities"; boys and girls were encouraged to opt for traditional male and female subjects and then for traditional male and female careers. Furthermore in the mass media girls were encouraged to recognize the all importance of finding "Mr. Right" and settling down to a life of blissful domesticity in their traditional housewife-mother roles.

The 1976 study by Sue Sharpe could be used to explain gender differences in attitudes to education in general in terms of  gender differences in socialisation and the differing employment aspirations  and opportunities available to males and females.. Thus  she argued on the basis of a study of 15-16 year old girls that they saw their futures more in terms of marriage and motherhood rather than an permanent employment career but also that they had rejected many potential careers  because they had been socialised via family , school and mass media to regard them as traditional male careers and therefore inconsistent with their image of femininity and/or because they also recognised that employers would in any case be unlikely to employ females in such positions. Thus if they were intending to leave school at age 16 they were especially likely to opt for secretarial or retailing or light assembly work and if they were intending to continue their education they were most likely to opt for the caring profession such as nursing, teaching or social work which were widely believed to be in accordance with females' inborn nurturing qualities.

However it has been pointed out that from then 1950s to the 1980s gender differences in subject entry at GCE Ordinary Level  level were actually  fairly limited  from  the 1950s to the 1980s  in that 8 or 9 of the most popular O Level/GCSE subjects  have been the same for boys and girls  although there have been some differences in the rank order of the different subjects. Also at this time boys were typically more likely than girls to opt for Physics , Chemistry , PE,  Craft and Technology while Domestic Science and Religious Studies , Also gender differences in the allocation to practical subjects  at CSE level and in non-examination courses may well have been greater. more likely to be entered for the handicraft subjects which would prepare them for entry into traditional male skilled manual work. Very few girls . in the 1970s would have aspired to careers as say, motor mechanics, plumbers , bricklayers or electricians and even if they so aspire did would usually have been dissuaded by the realisation that they were highly likely to face gender discrimination  if they sought these types of employment.

Once the GCSE replaced the GCE and CSE examinations from 1986 [for first examination in 1988] gender differences in subject entry were again small in relation to the 10 most entered GCSE subjects  although there were some significant gender differences in subject choice especially in relation to subjects geared to careers which were seen as traditionally male or traditionally female. For 2014 relationships between gender and GCSE subject choice may be summarised as follows:

  1. In relation to most of the 10 highest entry GCSE subjects gender differences in subject entry are small.
  2. These differences were negligible for the compulsory National Curriculum subjects [Mathematics: +50.7%F; Science + 50.7%F; English +50.8%M]
  3. Differences were small also for Additional Sciences [+5.3%F], , History [+51.4%F], Religious Studies [+53.7%F]} and Geography [+54%M}
  4. However the were substantial differences in entry for Art and Design [+66.3%F] and Design and Technology {+59.7%M] .
  5. Among the less popular subjects gender differences in subject entry for individual Science subjects were small : Biology [+50.03%F]; Chemistry [50.9%M]; Physics [50.1%M]
  6. Gender differences in subject entry were substantial in French [+57.3%F] and Spanish [+56.6%F] but not in German [+52.1%F]
  7. However in some other subjects gender differences in entry were much larger and to some extent reflected gender differences in career aspirations or and/or expectations. Thus Males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 95.6% of Construction entrants were male  and 94.6% of Health and Social Care entrants were female .

Although as stated gender differences in subject choice at GCE/ GCSE Level had been fairly small sociologists especially from from the 1980s onwards sociologists had voiced concerns especially in relations to the effects of schools themselves in encouraging stereotypical option choices and limiting girls' access to the Natural Sciences. Thus it was argued by Teresa Grafton and co. [1987] on the basis of a study of one co-educational comprehensive school in the South West of England that the schools themselves in the 1980s were encouraging traditional gender differences in subject choices which reflected the gender division of labour in society generally. There were limited places for boys and girls in non-traditional craft options and subject advice given by teachers reflected traditional views as to the "appropriate" gender division of labour. However, as would be expected, the researchers found also that subject choices were affected also by the gender division of labour in the home and in the labour market.

Alison Kelly [1987] attempted to analyse why female students were less likely to opt for sciences other than Biology. She argued that girls often felt at a disadvantage in Science lessons because textbooks and teaching examples tended to reflect male rather than female interests; because science teachers tended to be male and to relate more easily to boys; and because boys tended to monopolise equipment and class discussion. These factors could combine to cause an ongoing decline in girls' enrolments in Sciences other than Biology but they did not apply to Biology which was seen  by girls as more relevant to their preferred career options, for example as nurses, and to their likely future as housewives and mothers.

Initiatives such as GIST [Girls into Science and Technology] and WISE [Women into Science and Engineering] were begun in the late 1970s and early 1980s in an attempt to encourage female students to study Science and Engineering subjects although the effectiveness of these initiatives should not be overstated. In the GIST programme[1979-1983] researchers worked  in 10 co-educational comprehensive schools to try to raise teacher awareness of equal opportunities issues and to encourage more girls to opt for Sciences at GCE and CSE levels. The final report concluded that the initiative had improved girls' attitudes to Science and Technology ; that it had nevertheless had little impact on subject choice; and that the teachers, although sympathetic to the programme, said that they had not modified their teaching practices substantially as a result. However the GIST initiative could be regarded as an early pilot programme which has encouraged many subsequent equal opportunities initiatives.  [The WISE programme was set up as a national initiative by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council and was designed to raise awareness of the need for more female scientists and technologists and to emphasise the attractiveness for girls, young women and older women seeking to retrain of  careers in Science and Technology. WISE is still in operation and its website points out that whereas about 20 years ago only 4% of Engineering undergraduates were women the figure for 2009 was 13%. Obviously WISE itself may well have contributed to this increase at least to some extent. ]

When the  National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 English  Maths and Science all became compulsory subjects at GCSE level and most schools entered males and females in very similar proportions for the Double Science Award although there remained significant gender differences in entry for separate GCSE courses in Physics, Chemistry [ more boys] and Biology [more girls] and boys were also more likely than girls to study GCSE options such as Economics , Information Technology and Computing.  Thus Anne Colley [1998] argued that despite the introduction of the National Curriculum girls were still being dissuaded from opting for Science and Technology subjects. She claimed that the images of the instrumental male and the expressive female [suggested, as you will doubtless recall, by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s] still exercise a considerable hold over male and female attitudes ; that Computing [or Information Technology] especially continues to be taught in ways more appealing to boys than girls  and that girls are more successful in Maths and Science when they are taught in all-girls schools or in single sex classes in coeducational schools [a point that this disputed by other analysts who oppose single sex teaching] .

When the Double Award Science examinations were replaced by separate Science and Additional Science examinations this led also to increased entries for GCSEs in Biology , Physics and Chemistry and in recent years gender differences in entry for these subjects have fallen considerable and in 2014 total entries for these subjects also fell considerably. It seems useful to provide some additional detail on these recent developments in relation to the GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

  2012 [Rounded%] 2013 2014 2015 2016
Biology 52%M     F+0.8% 50.5%M     F+2.6% 50.03%M    F+1.6%  50.04% M  F+1.8% 50.3 F F+1.6%
Chemistry 53%M     F+1.5% 51.3%M     F+0.8% 50.9%M      F+2.5%  51.2% M  F+2.3% 50.3M  F+2.8%
Physics 52%M     M+0.2% 51.4%M     F+0.6% 50.1%M      F+0.6%  51.2% M  F+0.4% 50.8M F+0.2%

 

Thus the most  recent 2014 data indicate that gender differences in entry for single science GCSE courses have declined but that males were significantly more likely than females to opt for Economics, PE, Business Studies, ICT, Construction, Technology [excluding Design and Technology] and Engineering while females were much more to opt for Social Science, Drama, Health and Social Care, Home Economics and Performing Arts. At the extremes 95.6% of Construction entrants were male  and 94.6% of Health and Social Care entrants were female . Gender differences in subject entry were substantial also in French [+57.3%F] and Spanish [+56.6%F] but not in German [+52.1%F]

Gender and Subject Choice: GCE Advanced level

When Sue Sharpe repeated her 1976 study in 1994 female employment opportunities had improved, traditional gender differences in socialisation were weakening and she found that girls expressed more interest in careers in general and they have since the 1990s been increasingly  likely to enrol on GCE Advanced level and Degree courses and to seek employment in professional and managerial occupations. In her  study[2000]  of 50 girls and 50 boys in years 10 and 11 at 3 London comprehensive schools Becky Francis found that the girls in her sample expressed interest in a relatively wide variety of careers; were relatively unlikely to favour stereotypical female careers such as nurse, clerical worker or air hostess ; were  quite likely to express interest in careers usually associated with men and very likely to express interest in careers for which further education, higher education and a degree will be necessary.

However even in 2014 despite some considerable relative improvement women remain generally under-represented in high status, well-paid professional and managerial occupations relative to men and under-represented especially  in some professions such as those related to Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Computing,, Technology, and Architecture. It transpires that gender differences in subject choice at Advanced Level and beyond are greater than at GCSE Level  and that these gender differences in subject choice may be seen as both a consequence and a cause  of the underrepresentation of women in particular professions.

 

Click here for  a summary of  a recent [2009] report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which suggests that  Becky Francis' research may perhaps understate the extent of ongoing significant gender differences in perceived career prospects  and calls for better advice on subject choice and career choice. 

Click here for an article from the Independent [August 2012] which reports recent research suggesting that gender differences in employment intention are still based to a considerable extent of stereotypical views of male and female employment patterns.

Click herehere and here  and here for BBC items on women in scientific careers  NEW links added October 2012

 

Gender differences in subject choice are considerably larger at GCE Advanced Level than at GCE Level.

  • For females the 4 most popular subjects and the percentage of female subject entrants were as follows English [F=71.8%, 71.9%, 72.9%], Psychology [F= 75.1%, 75.8%, 76.3%], Biology [F= 58.9%, 60.6%, 61.1%] and Mathematics [F= 38.7%, 38.8% 38.7%]  whereas for Males the 4 most popular subjects were Mathematics {M=61.3% , 61.2% ,61.3%],[ Physics [M=78.9%,  78.5%, 78.4%], Chemistry [M=51.6%, 50.9%, 50.1%]  and Biology in 2014  [M=41.1%] .In 2015 History [M=46.8%, M 46.1%] replaced Biology as the 4th most popular subject for male students  and remained so in 2016
  • 7 subjects appeared among the 10 most popular choices for both Female and Male students although they did appear in different rank orders. These subjects were Mathematics, English, Biology Psychology, Chemistry, History and Geography .

  • 3 subjects were in the female top 10 but not in the male top 10 : Art and Design, Sociology and Religious Studies.

  • 3 Subjects were in the male top 10 but not in the female top 10 : Physics, Economics and Business Studies

  • Among males Mathematics and Physics  were the two most popular subjects whereas Mathematics was the fourth most popular subject for Females and Physics did not appear at all in the female top10 .

  • Among females English and Psychology were the two most popular subjects but were 5th and 10th respectively among males. .

  • Art and Design, Sociology and Religious Studies appear only in the female top 10

  •  Physics, Economics and Business Studies,  appear only in the male top 10.

  •  Biology was the 3rd most popular choice among females in 2015, 2015 and 2016 but  4th, 6th and 5th most  among males in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. In 2015 Biology remained in 3rd place with females but was replaced in 4th place with males by History as Biology fell to 6th place among males. In 2016 Biology h

  • Chemistry was a more popular choice among males[3rd with male2014-16; 7th with females2014.16] although the percentages of male and female  Chemistry entrants were similar [51.6%M and 50.9%M and 50.1%M  in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively]

  • The percentages of male and female entrants for  History and Geography are also very similar.,

  • As with the GCSE examinations some less popular Advanced Level subjects exhibit more significant gender differences in subject choice. Thus in 2014 Performing and Expressive Arts[90.1%F], Welsh [83%F], Communication Studies [72.4%F], Drama [71.8%F] and French [69.6%F] all have larger percentages of female entrants while Computing [92.5%M], Other Sciences [77.2%M], Further Mathematics [71.7%M], PE [65.4%M], ICT [63.9%M] and Music[59.2%M] all have larger percentages of male entrants.  These percentages changed little between 2014 and 2015 and2016  and  the 2015 and 2016 data are tabulated earlier in the document.

 

In summary Females were more likely than Males to opt for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences [other than Economics ] and Biology Males were more likely than females to opt for Mathematics, Further Mathematics Physics, Chemistry [only a slight majority of male entrants], Other Sciences, Computing, ICT, Economics and Business Studies. These subject choices at Advanced level have important implications for subsequent choices at Higher Education Level and for future careers.

How are these gender differences in subject choice to be explained?

  1. As females came to outperform males in all areas of the education system it was noted that they did so especially in Arts and Humanities whereas gender differences in examination results were much smaller in Mathematics and Sciences and this led to claims that the gendered variations in examination results in different subjects might be explicable in terms of gender differences in the structures and operations of the brain which enabled females to develop superior linguistic skills.
  2. Here are some links  to articles related to this type of theory which you may discuss with your teachers. Click here and here and here . The last article summarises some of the findings from a recent episode from the BBC Horizon series. However in the actual programme several additional important points are made which do not appear in the article. I hope to post a fuller summary of the Horizon programme in a few days. NEW Links added September 2014
  3. I am not qualified to evaluate such biologically based theories  but can state, from a sociological point of view, that if  girls do , on average, have superior linguistic skills , this may be explained at least partly  by the fact that females are more likely to have been socialised by their mothers and/or first school teachers to see reading as a "feminine activity"
  4.  It may be also that female relative success in English may be linked to the conventional perception of willingness to discuss personal issues as a feminine trait and female relative success in English may also help to explain why females are more likely than males to opt for subjects such as Modern Foreign Languages, Religious studies and Sociology where discursive skills are especially important .
  5. Female students are in many cases  more likely to opt at Advanced Level for the subjects in which they have been especially successful at GCSE Level.
  6. The above mentioned studies of Alison Kelly[1987] and Anne Colley[ 1998] suggested that there were aspects of GCSE Ordinary Level and GCSE teaching of Science and Technology subjects which may well have dissuaded females from opting for these subjects at Advanced Level even when they were successful at GCSE level. It may be that the GIST and WISE [see above] programmes addressed these issues to some extent but that further initiatives are necessary to encourage females to opt for Science and Technology subjects at Advanced Level
  7. Female students may have been  socialised also to recognise that it was mainly men who were likely to secure employment in most scientifically and technologically based  based subjects and in some , perhaps many cases  these attitudes may be reinforced by misguided advice from subject and career teachers.
  8. However as increasing numbers of females have opted to train to become doctors and as Nursing becomes a graduate profession it is easy to see why more females opt for Biology and Chemistry than Physics.
  9. Once subjects are strongly perceived as predominantly "male" or predominantly "female" subjects self-fulfilling prophecies may operate as males continue to choose "male" subjects and females continue to choose "female" subjects.

Thus Females may be more likely than males to opt for Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences at Advanced Level because they have been more successful than males at GCSE Level partly as a result of superior language skills, because they may feel more comfortable in discussion of the subject matter, because they associate the Arts , Humanities and Social Sciences with career opportunities which are more open to females partly because they have been influenced in these perceptions by parents, teachers and the mass media. Meanwhile they are dissuaded from Mathematics, Physics , Chemistry [to a lesser extent] , Computing, Technology, Economics and Business Studies the Science because they have been socialised to believe that these are "male" leading to male career opportunities and have been dissuaded from choosing these subjects at Advanced level as a result of teaching methods at GCSE level which in various ways discourage girls.

Similar factors operate to encourage male pupils toward Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry [only a slight majority of subject entrants are male], Computing, Technology, Economics  and Business Studies .

  1. Young boys may be socialised from an early age to perceive careers in Science and Technology as especially appropriate for males.
  2. The gender attainment gap in GCE Ordinary Level/GCSE has always been small in recent years boys have sometimes outperformed girls in GCSE Mathematics while although girls have narrowly outperformed males in GCSE Science subjects the attainment gap has been smaller than in Arts and Humanities subjects.
  3. It may be that boys are relatively successful at GCSE Level in Mathematics, Science and Technology subjects because they have been encouraged to recognises the linkages between success in these subjects and primarily male career opportunities. ...although some will say it is the shape of the male brain that is the key determining factor!
  4. Be that as it may boys are then in many cases more likely to opt for the Advanced level subjects in which they have been most successful at GCSE Level.
  5. GCSE Science and Technology subjects may in some cases be taught in ways which encourage boys to continue to study them at Advanced Level while discouraging girls although it must be remembered that females are more likely than males to opt for Biology and that the gender difference in Chemistry entry is small.
  6. As with females once  subjects are strongly perceived as predominantly "male" or predominantly "female" subjects self-fulfilling prophecies may operate as males continue to choose "male" subjects and females continue to choose "female" subjects.

Nevertheless we must note also that traditional gender differences in socialisation may now be smaller, especially perhaps in the case of academically successful [and mainly but not entirely middle class students] , that some attempts are being in schools to undermine traditional patterns of subject choice , that it has always been well known that good qualifications in Arts and Humanities as well as the sciences can open up good career opportunities for boys as well as girls and that an increasing number of females are now employed in occupations such as Medicine, Law and Business administration which were once dominated by men. These factors would help to explain any decline in traditional gender differences in subject choice at GCSE and Advanced Levels . Nevertheless it is abundantly clear that significant gender differences in subject choice exist at Advanced level and that they are are even greater in Higher Education.

Click here for for a separate document with information on Further and Higher Education . The gendered patterns of subject choice which are established at Advanced Level occur also in Further Education and are, if anything even more marked in Higher Education.

 

 

 

Gender differences in subject choice may be explained in general terms by the following interconnected factors :

  1. Gender differences in socialisation operating via the family, the school, the peer group, the local community and the mass media.
  2. Overall perceptions of particular subjects as primarily "male" or "female " subjects.
  3. Apparent gender differences in ability in different subjects which themselves may be explicable in terms of gender differences in socialisation although some analysts have argued for a biological basis for gender differences in subject abilities.
  4. Processes and teaching styles operative in schools which in the past have encouraged females toward Arts and Humanities and discouraged them from choosing Maths, Science and Computing while encouraging boys to opt for Maths, science and Computing in preference to Arts and Humanities subjects.
  5. The existence of some single sex schools  and the introduction of some single sex classes in co-educational schools may have some bearing on subject choice.
  6. Gender differences in employment opportunities
  7. .
  8. The significance of these  factors may have altered significantly for some students but not others.

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