Our society has made progress over the past decades towards equal rights and obligations between the sexes.
However, phenomena have emerged that researchers are still trying to explain. One of them is the paradox of gender equality. In this article, we will try to better understand what it means and what are some of the basics that would explain its existence.
What is the paradox of gender equality?
The paradox of gender equality is a phenomenon detected during the analysis of the relationship between the degree of equality of rights and freedoms implemented in a given society and statistics on the behavior of the population according to gender. The paradox occurs because it has been observed that, the more egalitarian a society, the more a series of differences between men and women are consolidated faced with certain ways of choosing.
Why is this an astonishing phenomenon? Because, apparently, the more the opportunities of the two sexes are similar in all spheres of life, one might think that the differences in behavior between them should tend to become more and more diluted until they practically disappear. But the paradox of gender equality shows us that this does not always happen.
And it’s not only that it doesn’t happen, but in some ways, the differences between men and women become much more visible in those countries or societies that seem to be ahead of gender equality than in those where the indicators show that they are in a much more pronounced state of inequality.
The question to be asked, then, is: how is it possible that as society devotes itself to breaking down the barriers that differentiate men and women, some of these differences will become more and more pronounced? We will try to shed more light on this question by exploring more facets of the gender equality paradox below.
The paradox of gender equality in education
One of the areas in which the paradox of gender equality has been reinforced is precisely that of education and in the choices men and women make to build their respective careers. In this sense, more than obvious differences have been observed between the behaviors of the different sexes in more traditional (and therefore less egalitarian) societies and those which take place in more modern countries.
It’s not a matter of opinion, but of data: countries like Saudi Arabia, which have far higher rates of inequality than others like Sweden, have an extremely high proportion of female engineering graduates. and other technological careers. More specifically, in Saudi Arabia, almost half of graduates in these disciplines (45%) are women, compared to only 15% observed in Sweden.
However, it is clear that much more has been legislated and fought for equal opportunities for women and men in Sweden than in Saudi Arabia. So why does this obvious paradox of gender equality appear when analyzing student rates in technical careers? Shouldn’t the indicators be closer to 50% for each sex, the more equality there is in the country?
If in many other fields it is, it seems that the choice of career is an issue which escapes this logic, as evidenced by the indicators. Among the countries which, according to various authorities, occupy the first place in terms of gender equality, women represent only 20% of the total number of graduates in so-called STEM disciplines (in English, acronyms for science, technology, engineering and mathematics).).
In contrast, in countries that are the most unequal between men and women, the percentage of women in STEM faculties is skyrocketing. We have seen the data from Saudi Arabia before, but in other countries, like Iran, that index jumps to 70%. Because?
How is this reflected in the workplace?
Another scenario in which the paradox of gender equality has also been observed is that of entrepreneurship. In 2021, Steinmetz and his team conducted a meta-analysis of 119 other studies that analyzed this phenomenon in more than 36 countries, accumulating a total sample of more than 260,000 people.
This work gave results similar to those we have already reviewed around the choice of university careers. In this case, women in less egalitarian countries were more likely to start and start their own businesses than those in societies where more legislative progress had been made towards gender equality. Another example of the paradox of gender equality.
Why is this happening?
Obviously, the question that besets anyone’s mind when faced with this approach is: why does the paradox of gender equality occur? The first thing to keep in mind is that this problem has two segments to consider, because on the one hand it is necessary to understand why in unequal countries there is greater equality in the field of races, but also why in more egalitarian countries greater inequality occurs.
In other words, if this index were to remain firm in both egalitarian and non-egalitarian countries, whether it indicates a majority of women in scientific careers, a majority of men in the same or an equality between them, it does not One would only have to worry about studying the reasons why the predictions are not being met in both cases.
But the paradox of gender equality makes the question counter-intuitive in both cases: more equality in society, more inequality in this area, but also, less equality, less inequality in society. choice of scientific disciplines. We will therefore need hypotheses that explain the two problems, or one for each situation, so that they explain the paradox in a complementary way.
One of the ideas launched by certain researchers to try to give an explanatory basis to this question is the economy. In this sense, it is evident that technical disciplines tend to report higher salaries in the future than other types of careers. Therefore, the approach would be as follows, in more unequal countries, women tend to enroll more in these careers in order to improve their economic position.
This hypothesis could partly explain the paradox of gender equality, but there is a problem is that it would apply to the situation of countries with inequalities between men and women in which the GDP was low, as is the case with many of them, but that would not serve to shed light on the casuistry of Saudi Arabia, for example, a country with gender inequalities but rich.
Likewise, the hypothesis would focus on cases of unequal countries. But what about those where great equality between women and men has been achieved? One of the proposals in this case has been controversial because it conflicts with the very foundations of gender equality. It refers to the innate preferences of each.
What if the question was simply what men like to do the most and what attracts women the most, again in statistical terms? If this were the case, it would seem that once a similar equality of rights and freedoms has been achieved for men and women, both are freer to say matters such as the discipline to be studied, without that other variables are involved.
If this assumption were correct, it would assume that men have, naturally, a greater preference for technological careers while women are more often inclined towards humanities, medicine, psychology and other careers. In this case, it would seem that wanting to reach 50% of each gender in each of the areas would be a matter far removed from people’s preferences.
This case poses an interesting dilemma: which society is the freest and most egalitarian, which imposes restrictions so that half of those enrolled in each career are of one sex and the other half of the other, or which allows each individual to freely choose his future, all having exactly the same options to decide?
This is a really complex question that the experts still don’t have an answer to, so these assumptions are still just assumptions. Much research is still needed to be able to understand the paradox of gender equality and thus explain the differences observed in all the cases presented.
- Ahl, H., Nelson, T., Bourne, KA (2010). The paradox of gender equality: a case study from Sweden. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship.
- Haus, I., Steinmetz, H., Isidor, R., Kabst, R. (2013). Gender effects on corporate intention: a structural equation meta-analysis model. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship.
- Steinmetz, H., Isidor, R., Bauer, C. (2021). Gender differences in the intention to start a business. An updated and expanded meta-analysis. Journal of Psychology.
- Stoet, G., Geary, DC (2018). The Paradox of Gender Equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education. Psychological science.