Matric mystery: What happens to all the girls who get bachelor passes?

Cape Town - Girls with bachelor passes are sweeping past boys to snap up the lion’s share of places at higher education institutions - but why aren’t these bright young things reaching the workplace? News24 unravels the mystery.

Earlier this month, 28.5% of girls qualified for bachelor studies, according to the department of basic education. Boys performed almost equally as well, with 28% qualifying.

The last couple of years has seen a similar pattern - with the pass rate for girls and boys within 0.5% of each other. But this is where the equality ends.

After matric, girls suddenly whizz past the boys - with latest government figures showing that females made up a vast 58% of those enrolling in public higher education institutions.

The department of higher education and training (DHET) figures from 2012 show that males made up the remaining 42%.

This gender gap stretches even wider in distance education programmes, where females make up 64% of total student enrolment, compared to 36% of males, according to the DHET.

But once out of higher education, the trend veers off in the opposite direction - with men taking the lead. While almost half of all South African men are employed, census statistics show that just 35% of women have full time jobs.

Education equality

The good news is, our schools are giving boys and girls an equal start.

A 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) report on gender equality showed that no country in the world has achieved full gender equality - for which the WEF includes education, health, political empowerment and economic participation.

Yet for education, the WEF gave South Africa a top scoring 0.98 out of 1 (for equal gender opportunities).

Following matric, government figures show that while girls are flooding into public higher education institutions, it is the boys who dominate private institutions.

In 2012, almost double the number of males forked out for higher education - with 97 000 enrolling in private institutions - far more than the 53 774 girls who signed up.

Overall however, girls dominate - with a total of 608 614 girls enrolling for public and private higher education, compared with 495 368 boys in 2012.

For Doron Isaacs, deputy general secretary of Equal Education, this is no surprise.

He told News24: “The trend of girls outperforming boys academically is an international one, so there's nothing surprising about it, and nothing unique about South Africa there.”

Indeed, Professor Graeme Bloch, education analyst at University of Witwatersrand

Public and Development Management School, said that girls may tip the balance at university simply because they do “very well” at matric level - particularly in maths and science.

Though girls are less likely to go on to study maths and science at a higher level, Bloch said there was a “place issue” which ensures that the better students would get through.

Babies to blame?

The domination of females however ends there.

The mid-1990s saw a flood of women joining South Africa’s workforce - an increase of 38% more women according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - which boosted overall employment levels.

Yet census figures show that since 2001, the dominance of men in the workplace has barely altered.

In 2001, 51% of men had jobs and 38% of women. A decade later in 2011, 47% of men were working, while 35% of women had jobs.

By international standards the OECD says women’s participation in the workforce “remains low” - with the average work participation globally running at 69% of men and 54% of women.

In South Africa, this is partly to do with having babies - with women making up 97% of the caregivers who qualify for the Child Support Grant.

Lisa Vetten, gender researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, told

News24: “Once in the workplace, there are issues around child care - employers see children as a liability. And if you take time off [to have the baby] you have to catch up with the men when you come back.”

However, having children isn’t the only challenge for women in the workplace.

Men “don’t need” higher education

Census figures reveal “marked gender disparities” in the earnings of employed men and women.

Matric results aside, women are more likely than men to be found in the lower earning categories - with men more likely to be found in the top earning categories.

Women also devote, on average, more than twice as much time to unpaid household work as men.

Vetten said that the figures could help explain why fewer men go into higher education than women.

She said: “Men may feel that they don’t need higher education to gain employment – while women might think they will be valued more by an employer if they do”.

Bloch agreed that women are “very disadvantaged” in this area. He told News24: “I think girls have the extra burden of employment prejudices against them”.

‘Old boys club’

Isaac, however, pointed out that when employers set out to hire people, their decisions “do not reflect ability as accurately as academic results”.

Employers will take people on for a variety of reasons - not just for their academic qualifications.

Despite this, both Isaacs and Bloch agreed that women face a tougher time climbing the corporate ladder.

Bloch said: “The overarching problem is that it’s still an old boys club out there.”

While Isaacs added: “There is still a burden of proof that women face, all other things being equal, that men don't. Black people face a similar prejudice”.

For Vetten, the imbalance in the workforce “may also show that employers are imposing higher bars before they employ women”.

‘Lip service’ from employers

Certainly, there is evidence of this.

According to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), while our laws promote equal opportunities, not all our employers do.

The SAHRC claimed in a report on gender equality that employment equality “continues largely to receive lip service”.

The 2012 report said the challenge was the lack of implementation of the existing laws, lack of monitoring and lack of holding companies to account.

Not only were companies failing on general levels, but the SAHRC said they were also less likely to promote women into managerial positions.

A 2014 MasterCard Index of Women's Advancement confirmed this, with data showing that for every 100 male business leaders there were just 57.5 women.

MasterCard said that in the seven years it has conducted its index, the number of female business owners has decreased every year - leaving just 25.5 women owners for every 100 male owners last year.

The OECD has blamed the “prevalence of traditional views” in South Africa - tying women’s roles within households and limiting their opportunities to take up paid work or entrepreneurial activities.

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