A recent report about so-called “pink education” compiled by Hungary’s State Audit Office (SAO/ÁSZ) has caused an uproar both in the Hungarian and international media.
The report reveals that between 2010 and 2021, more women were admitted to higher education in Hungary each year than men. In the 2022/2023 fall semester, the proportion of women among students enrolled in higher education was 54.55 percent. The proportion of women among graduates was even higher in the last decade, at around 60 percent, due to a higher drop-out rate among male students.
Secondary education is the gate to higher education and according to data, over-representation of females starts there. 58.1 percent of those admitted to higher education and almost 70 percent of those admitted to full-time higher education came from grammar schools, where the percentage of girls is 55.4 percent (in all kinds of secondary education the ratio is 49.6). According to the report, the shift in gender ratios may have been driven by the ‘feminization’ of the teaching profession. In 2021, 82 percent of the 96,000 teachers in the national public education system were women.
The report quotes research that shows that the average intellectual ability of men and women is not different, but “there are differences in the distribution of intelligence and in some sub-skills.” In their own research, the authors asked parents and teachers (a representative sample of 700) how they perceive the gender gap and the importance of different attributes/competences in education.
Similar to bibliographic data, respondents’ perceptions showed significant gender differences for all attributes. According to the respondents, the most feminine attributes were emotional and social maturity, diligence, verbal fluency, manual dexterity, good oral and written expression, tolerance of monotony and precision, punctuality. In contrast, the most masculine qualities according to them are: technical-aptitude, risk-taking, agility, spatial awareness, entrepreneurship, and logic.
According to the respondents, attributes which are perceived to be more feminine are more important in public education.
The authors point out that creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and technical and technological skills are necessary for the optimal development of the economy, to alleviate labor market problems, and to improve competitiveness and sustainability. They explain that more emphasis should be placed in public education on the transfer and development of competences and skills to meet the changing needs of the labor market in the long term, education should prepare young people, regardless of gender, for successful independent adult leadership and effective participation in the labor market.
The report notes that three of the compulsory subjects in the graduation exam are humanities (Hungarian literature and grammar, history, foreign language) and only one is from the field of STEM (mathematics). The authors warn that boys may be disadvantaged in terms of secondary school certificates and further higher education. They suggest making the number of humanities and STEM subjects equal among the compulsory subjects, to prepare pupils for everyday life and the job market.
The report states that the so-called “pink education” phenomenon has a number of economic and social consequences.
If education favors feminine characteristics, it undermines social mobility and equal opportunities. A lower valuation of masculine qualities can cause mental and behavioral problems for male students who are not able to optimally display and develop their abilities. It is important to note that this is just a warning and a hypothesis by the authors. In their own research, the overwhelming majority of teachers and parents (79 and 87 percent, respectively) said that according to their opinion, public education favors neither feminine nor masculine skills disproportionately. The authors note that the answers were based on subjective impressions.
The over-representation of women in higher education can also cause demographic problems, making it difficult for young people of nearly the same level of education to start a relationship. The authors explain this statement by quoting data which shows that women with a university degree are more likely to marry a man with the same or higher level of education, while men do not necessarily have the same preference. If recent trends continue, there will be 1.8 female graduates for every male graduate in OECD countries by 2025, the authors added.
Although it undoubtedly contains unfortunate and ambiguous wording, the report can hardly be accused of male chauvinism.
It was supervised, edited, and created by six experts, only one of which is male.
Several international media outlets have published misleading summaries of the report, ignoring the data and explanations cited, and highlighting only certain conclusions out of context. The BBC wrote that “an increase in female graduates could make women less likely to marry and have children.” The BBC has also ignored the fact that it was not the authors or the ÁSZ who classified certain characteristics as feminine or masculine, but the literature cited and the parents and teachers interviewed by researchers.
The Telegraph puts it in an extremely misleading and simplistic way: “Hungary tells women: You won’t find husbands if you become smarter than men.”
Der Spiegel incorrectly wrote that the authority assumes that feminine skills are disproportionately favored in public education, but as mentioned above, this is just a hypothetical warning as the research showed that this is not the case.
According to La Repubblica, the authors of the report say that “if women spend too much time studying, they will not get married, have children, or contribute to the development of the nation.” No such conclusion is drawn in the report, nor is there any value judgment.
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