“Do cognitive gender differences contribute to segregation in occupations?”

Abstract: We investigate (i) to what extent cognitive strengths are associated with subsequent educational and occupational choices, and (ii) whether gender differences in cognitive strengths are related to the unequal gender distribution in education and occupation. Using population registers, we identify a study population of 167,776 men and women born in Sweden in 1977-1979 who attended the 9th grade of compulsory school at age 16 in 1993-1995. To measure cognitive strengths, we use teacher-assigned school marks and focus on school subjects associated with cognitive domains in which gender differences are typically found (i.e., numerical/technical and language/life science). We follow our population from age 16 until they are 32 years and relate their cognitive strengths with their individual career choices, characterized by the cognitive demands and the female-to-male ratio of their selected educations and occupations. We find that both men and women with a strength in language and life science end up in educations and occupations perceived to require language abilities and in which the ratio of women is relatively high. At the same time, both men and women with a cognitive strength in technical and numerical subjects select into educations and occupations perceived to require technical and numerical skills – careers that also tend to have a higher ratio of men. However, we also find that men and women with identical cognitive profiles, nevertheless, end up selecting very different educational and occupational careers. Because we observe gender gradients in cognitive abilities, we conclude from these findings that gender segregation in education and occupation is in part attributable to the uneven distribution of cognitive strengths between men and women, although there are undoubtedly additional factors influencing gender inequality in career choices.

Serhiy Dekhtyar is a postdoctoral researcher at the Clinical Neuroscience Department, Section of Psychology at Karolinska Institutet, where he works in Professor Agneta Herlitz’ group. Serhiy obtained his PhD from the Centre for Economic Demography at the Lund University in 2013 and his earlier research involved investigating the effects of childhood cognitive ability on late-life dementia. Most recently, Serhiy has been investigating gender differences in cognitive abilities and educational and occupational outcomes in Sweden at the turn of the 21st century.


The seminar will take place in room No 549 (CHESS Library) at CHESS, 5th floor, Sveavägen 160 (Sveaplan), on Wednesday, December 16th at 1:30 pm.