Studierende Hörsaal
Skynesher/ E+/Getty Images Plus
Lost Female Talents

Gender Gap in College Aspirations

Why do some female school students decide against enrolling in university? In this study, Melinda Erdmann (WZB), Marcel Helbig (WZB), and Marita Jacob (University Cologne), explore the gender gap in college aspirations and enrollment among high school students in Germany. They try to understand why there are differences between young men and women in their idealistic college aspirations and realistic expectations.

In many industrialized countries, women's participation in higher education has increased significantly. They often outperform men academically, opt for more challenging educational paths, and are more likely to qualify for university admission. However, in certain countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland, some eligible women choose not to enroll in higher education. The study “Lost Female Talent: Gender Differences in College Aspirations and Expectations in Germany” aims to understand why some female upper secondary school students decide against enrolling in university. The researchers specifically explore whether and why students who aspire to attend college end up refraining from doing so.

They surveyed 1,766 upper secondary students and found that both young women and men in Germany show equal interest in pursuing higher education. In fact, women even express higher aspirations for college enrollment. However, women tend to be more pessimistic than men about actually achieving their college goals. Both genders are influenced by factors like the perceived likelihood of success and costs, but young women are additionally affected by formal restrictions that limit entry into their preferred fields of study

Restricted access to their preferred fields of study, e.g. medicine or psychology with their demanding admission criteria, poses a significant hindrance for women in pursuing their aspirations. Initiatives should be implemented to support both young women and men in pursuing their aspirations to prevent the phenomenon of "lost talent."