Gender Inequality and Post-Secondary Education in Canada

Topics: Gender, Economic inequality, Discrimination Pages: 8 (2381 words) Published: February 27, 2014

Gender Inequality and Post-Secondary
Education in Canada

Historically, gender differences have been at the core of social and economic injustice and women have faced fundamental disadvantages (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 351). Despite recent changes in formal equality – the introduction of protection for women in the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example - informal barriers are still present which lead to the discrimination of women (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 89). The Canadian education system has not been immune to the effects of discrimination towards women; in fact, some argue that schools have been a vessel for inequality (Knudson-Martin & Mahoney, 2009, p. 45). This paper will argue that discrimination toward women in post-secondary education has led to social and economic inequality that reaches much further than just educational institutions. The first section of the paper will outline current scholarly literature on education and specifically gender inequality in universities. This paper will then discuss why gender inequality in schools and education is a social problem. Finally, the essay will conclude with a discussion and commentary regarding the issue of social and economic inequality between genders as an educational system failure. WHAT DO WE KNOW?

Many structural functionalists suggest that education is a fundamental way that socialization occurs (Tepperman and Curtis, 2001, p. 347). Furthermore, that our society is obsessed with assigning social statuses to people based on their perceived level of ‘success’; this method of placing individuals or groups into social statuses is often referred to as ascribed status (Sasaki as cited in Tepperman and Curtis, 2011, p. 347). The emphasis placed on social status is reinforced by individuals desire to gain upward social mobility – a process by which one moves up a perceived social or economic hierarchy in order to achieve a desired status in a meritocracy (holding power based on merit and not social status) (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 347). The desire to gain upward social mobility has led to the belief that educational achievement will lead to increased social status (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 347). Structural functionalists argue that the function of schooling is to give people the desired human capital (in terms of abilities) in order to advance economic growth (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 361). Therefore, many Canadians believe that receiving post-secondary education will lead to higher social mobility, and thus, increase their human capital which will enable individuals to reach a higher ascribed status. The educational system also aims to ‘sort’ individuals into distinct categories which send messages out to perspective employers regarding the individuals abilities; this approach is commonly referred to as signalling theory (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 349). Many scholars suggest that this may lead to economic inequality based on where an individual receives post-secondary education (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 349). For example, men have dominated the fields of engineering and medicine and women tend to study education and nursing. Although many of these jobs require similar educational achievement, education and nursing is not comparable to medicine and engineering in terms of financial reward (Tepperman & Curtis, 2011, p. 351). Connell (1996) argues that a symbolic structure in education is the ‘gendering of knowledge’, which refers to teachers defining certain subjects or areas as ‘masculine’ and others as ‘feminine’ (Connell, 1996, p. 214). Furthermore, Connell argues that perceptions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ jobs are culturally defined, and thus, banning females from typically male dominated curriculum areas is a form of discrimination (Connell, 1996, p. 217). A result of ‘sorting’ people into different categories is the division of individuals...

References: Banks, T. L. (1988). Gender bias in the classroom. Journal of Legal Education, 38(2), 137-146.
The Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11
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Connell, R. W. (1996). Teaching the boys: New research on masculinity, and gender studies for schools. Teachers College Record, 98(2), 206- 235.
Fausto-Sterling, A. (2009). Dueling dualisms. In A. L. Ferber, K. Holcomb, & T. Wentling, Sex, Gender & Sexuality (pp. 6-21). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Knudson-Martin, C., & Mahoney, A.R. (2009). Couples, Gender, and Power: Creating Change in Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
MacNeill, T. (2011, November 23). Schools and education [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from University of Ontario Institute of Technology WebCT site:
Stratton, T.D., McLaughlin, M.A., Witte, F.M., Fosson, S.E., & Nora, L.M
Tepperman & Curtis. (2011). Social Problems: A Canadian Perspective, 3rd Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Williams, C. (2010). Economic Well Being: A Gender-based Statistical Report. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Retrieved from
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