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Study: The Gender Gap at Work Starts as Early as Age 15

It starts in the teenage years. It starts in the teenage years. Minerva Studio/

Teenage boys prepare for their futures with internships and job shadowing. Teenage girls, on the other hand, tend to prepare by researching online. That’s according to data released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. During international testing in 2012, 15-year-olds from 15 OECD member countries were asked about the methods they use to find out more about their future careers or studies.

(OECD: The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence)

It should be noted that this does not include data from the US or the UK. It does include Canada, Finland, Ireland and South Korea, among other countries. Boys were significantly more likely to have hands-on experience, while girls were about 10 percentage points more likely to research on the internet for both career information and further education.

This doesn’t mean that boys were necessarily more likely to seek out these experiences than girls. Some of the responsibility falls on schools and parents: the majority of boys and girls knew how to find a job, but boys said they were better prepared for job interviews.

(OECD: The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence)

Hands-on experience is valuable for a lot of reasons: shadowing allows a young person to experience the rhythm of a job; internships introduce teens to the application process and teach them how to conduct themselves professionally; and job fairs teach networking skills that are integral to getting an interview or moving a resume to the top of the stack.

Getting experience as early as age 15 can only help develop those skills, in a way that simply reading about them cannot. The ability to find and secure an internship becomes especially important in college, where most internships turn into job offers. In the US, a teenage job can increase earning power during a person’s 20’s.

The OECD report found that girls are more likely than boys to think school is important, that they spend more time on homework each week, and that they read more than boys. And yet, boys are the ones who have the hands-on job experience. Confidence might play a role there. Boys are more assured in their math and science abilities, while girls are more anxious about math (the survey did not ask about science anxiety)—even for boys and girls who had equally high scores, Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills, told Quartz.

The confidence that boys have may be a result of their parents’ expectations. As the report notes:

“Parents were more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field—even when their 15-year-old boys and girls perform at the same level in mathematics.”

The most basic fix would be for parents and teachers to treat all students equally, and expect the same level and types of achievements from them, Schleicher says. Many of these changes are extremely easy to implement in the home—take your daughter to work, ask about her interests, and encourage her to turn those online searches into actual jobs and internships.

(Image via Minerva Studio/

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