Cracking the glass ceiling: benefits of single-sex classes

14 Jan 2016
 benefits of single-sex classes

Women wanting top economics jobs could benefit from all-female classes for technical economics subjects at university, according to research presented by the first female keynote speaker at the 25th Colin Clark Memorial Lecture.

Professor Alison Booth, a labour economist at the Australian National University, spoke to over 65 industry professionals, government representatives and leading economics academics about the challenges, potential solutions and public policy intervention for narrowing the gender pay gap in economics on 18 November 2015.

Professor Booth said there is no single explanation for the cause in gender pay gaps.

Her earlier research has identified a number of potential causes and she suggested appropriate policy responses would include mentoring of women, facilitating the formation of networks, stopping nepotism at the gateways into higher level jobs, and introducing quotas to increase female representation at the highest corporate levels.

Professor Booth also explained that some economists have blamed women’s lower pay and under-representation in high-level jobs on differences between the sexes in risk attitudes or willingness to compete.

“My recent research explores if social conditioning or nurture lead to differences in risk-taking and competitiveness.”

“The main interest was seeing if women randomly assigned to single-sex classes within a coed environment behave differently to those randomly assigned to coed classes.”

“The results suggested that part of the observed gender differences in behaviour found in previous studies might reflect social learning rather than inherent gender traits,” Professor Booth said.

All-female classes for even a short period of time can also help women to achieve their full potential and form beneficial female friendship groups in a male-dominated cohort, according to Professor Booth’s research.

“My coauthors and I found that single-sex classes for a technical economic subject in students’ first year at university saw a significant increase in women’s grades, while men’s marks in single-sex classes were unaffected, as were results for men and women in coed classes.”

“Female-only classes may also lead to the formation of important work-related networks, mentoring opportunities and a strong alumni of women role models.”

“This way of learning technical subjects could also be a cost-effective option for improving public policy around increasing educational outcomes for women in other fields dominated by males,” Professor Booth said.

The Colin Clark Memorial Lecture is held annually in honour of Colin Clark, a UQ Economics academic who had a pioneering role in the construction of national accounts.

Past Colin Clark Memorial Lecture speakers include economists Professor Ross Garnaut, Dr David Gruen and Professor Ian Harper.