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A decade of remarkable progress for women: study

22 Apr 2009

Women have made remarkable progress in getting access to higher education and the professions over the last decade – according to one of the most extensive studies ever carried out.

The report by sociologists at the Universities of Manchester and Oxford for the Equality and Human Rights Commission also found that economically active women do not now feel there are greater levels of discrimination against them when compared to men.

But, say the experts, inequalities remain: women still face greater obstacles than men in finding the highest earning jobs.

The study also revealed low levels of educational attainment in white working-class boys, affecting their access to the labour market, income levels, career prospects and class position.

Professor Fiona Devine, from the University of Manchester, said: “Undoubtedly, the news for women is good: we picked up remarkable progress in the areas of higher education and work.

“Women for example report lower levels of job refusals and obstacles to promotion, though that could be explained by not applying for certain jobs and opportunities.

Professor Yaojun Li, from The University of Manchester, added: “But though more women are now successful gaining a degree, some of them aren’t able to translate that into finding work at the highest professional levels.

“And the fact that the success is concentrated in white predominately middle-classes highlights a growing class divide with working-class women not faring so well and even being left behind.

“Research and policy should continue to explore the factors that inhibit white working-class women’s educational attainment and occupational advancement.”

The study reviewed extensive data on the relationship between education, employment, income, social class relating to gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

As expected, the report found little progress for most ethnic minority groups in terms of paid employment – the Britain’s Indian community has bucked the trend.

Professor Anthony Heath, from the University of Oxford, said: “There has not been any progress in the ability for most ethnic groups to find paid work and there is a long way to go before ethnic equality can be realised.

“However, Indian men and women are an exception: they are doing well in gaining socio-economic integration into mainstream British society.”

Notes for editors

The study analysed data from the General Household Survey (GHS 1996/7, 2004/5), Labour Force Survey (LFS 1996/7, 2004/5), Home Office Citizenship Survey (HOCS 2003, 2005) and the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS 2005).

You can download it at

Equality group inequalities in education, employment and earnings: A research review and analysis of trends over time by Professors Yaojun Li and Fiona Devine from the University of Manchester and Professor Anthony Heath from the University of Oxford.

Graphs and tables are available

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The University of Manchester
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