Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools


Brussels, 7 June 2010

Traditional stereotypes remain the biggest challenge for gender equality in education

The European Commission today presented a new study which examines how gender inequality in education is addressed in European countries. It shows that gender differences persist in both choice of study and outcomes.

The European Commissioner responsible for education, Androulla Vassiliou, said: "The relationship between gender and educational attainment has changed significantly over the past 50 years and differences now take more complex forms. Schools are overwhelmingly staffed by women, but education systems are managed by men. Most graduates are female and most school drop-outs are boys. We need to base gender equality policies on these realities."

The Commission study is based on the work the Eurydice network, which collects and analyses data on education systems. The study covers 29 countries (all EU Member States except Bulgaria, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

Key findings:

Gender roles and stereotypes are the main concern

With a few exceptions, all European countries have, or plan to have, gender equality policies in education. The primary aim is to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Other objectives include enhancing the representation of women in decision-making bodies, countering gender-based attainment patterns and combating gender-based harassment in schools (see Annex, Figure 1). Government initiatives that aim to inform parents about gender equality issues and involve them more closely in promoting gender equality in education are rare.

Girls usually obtain higher grades and higher pass rates in school leaving examinations than boys and boys are more likely to drop out of school or repeat school years. International surveys show that boys are more likely to be poor performers in reading whereas girls are more likely to be low achievers in mathematics in around one third of European education systems. However, socio-economic background remains the most important factor.

Only a few countries address boys' underachievement as a policy priority (The Flemish Community of Belgium, Ireland and the United Kingdom). Still fewer countries have special programmes for improving boys' reading skills and girls' achievement in mathematics and science (Austria, United Kingdom (England)).

The European Commission addresses gender inequality in education both by encouraging policy co-operation between EU countries and through its funding programmes. The fight against social exclusion and gender inequality is one of the key priorities for the financial support that the EU gives to multinational education projects and partnerships through the Lifelong Learning Programme.

Gender-sensitive vocational guidance is focused on girls

Many young men and women in vocational schools and general secondary education still opt for career choices reflecting traditional gender roles. Better vocational guidance is needed to address this issue and for career advisers to be more gender aware and thus more able to challenge stereotypes.

Gender-sensitive guidance, which is currently only available in half of the European countries (see Annex Figure 2), is more often targeted at girls than boys and usually aims to encourage girls to choose technology and natural science careers. Although interesting individual initiatives and projects exist, overall national strategies to combat gender stereotypes in career choices and initiatives aimed at boys are lacking.

Policies on higher education focus mainly on increasing numbers of women in maths, science and technology (MST)

Women represent the majority of students and graduates in almost all countries and dominate in education, health and welfare, humanities and arts. Men dominate in engineering, manufacturing and construction.

Around two thirds of countries have gender equality policies in higher education (see Annex Figure 3). However, almost all these policies and projects target only females. On the other hand, the proportion of women among teaching staff in higher education institutions declines with every step on the academic career ladder. However, only about a third of the countries have implemented concrete policies to address this problem to target this vertical segregation.

Policies targeting both issues are present in the Flemish Community of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Norway.

The Eurydice Network ( provides information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 35 national offices based in all 31 countries participating in the EU's Lifelong Learning programme (EU Member States, EEA countries and Turkey) and is co-ordinated and managed by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency in Brussels, which drafts its publications and databases.

To know more:

The full study Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: study on the measures taken and current situation in Europe:

Detailed national descriptions of gender-related policies will be available at

Printed copies of the study in English will be available from today. French and German translations will be available shortly.

European Commission: Education and training


EDUCATION: Gender Equality

Figure 1 : Gender equality policies aiming to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes in primary and secondary education, 2008/09

Combat gender-based harassment

Enhance representation of women in educational management

Target gender-based attainment patterns

All countries in the box have policies to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Those encircled have the additional specific policy goals shown. Countries without substantial gender equality policies in education are: EE, IT, HU, PL, SK

Source: Eurydice.

Figure 2: Specific vocational guidance to challenge traditional career choices available in Europe, 2008/09

Gender-sensitive vocational guidance


No specific vocational guidance

Data not available

Source: Eurydice.

Figure 3: Gender equality policies or projects in higher education,

Policies/projects targeting

vertical segregation

horizontal segregation

No gender equality policies in higher education

Data not available

Source: Eurydice.

Side Bar