Breaking down the barriers: Reasons for young people’s educational choices and ways of reducing gender segregation in educational and occupational fields (2017–2019)

There is clear gender segregation in the Finnish labour market and young people’s educational choices. The reasons for segregation are connected to various individual- and micro-level processes and institutional factors of the educational system and labour market. Stereotypical expectations of gender roles are considered to be one key reason for segregation. Changing these role expectations is challenging as they have been built up over a long period and under the surface they affect the subconscious attitudes and behaviour of individuals and groups and visibly they are self-strengthening, in the advertising images of certain fields of education, for instance. Though educational choices and the guidance to support these, for example, have been studied extensively, only a small amount of research data exists on the significance of gender stereotypes on young people’s perceptions of occupations and educational choices.

The study attempts to answer the following questions:

What types of perceptions and processes result in young people selecting certain occupational fields and what gender-based meanings are associated with the selections?

How can female-/male-dominated fields be made more attractive also in the eyes of representatives of the minority gender and how can the obstacles preventing applications to these fields be removed?

The goal of the project is to generate data on young people's perceptions of occupations, the factors affecting these and the changes taking place in these over the past 20 years. The meanings that young people associate with occupational perceptions and their placement in various areas of life are examined in the project. Particular focus is placed on possible differences between the occupational perceptions of girls and boys and the factors explaining these. The goal is to try and describe gender-segregated occupational perceptions and the emergence of these, and also to improve general understanding of the formation of gender-segregated educational choices and labour markets.

The research data will be used to develop recommendations and practices that help to narrow gender differences, so that in the future female- /male-dominated fields are more attractive to both genders. Another goal of the project is to produce a quantitative indicator for monitoring gender segregation in the future. The project offers information for decision-makers, particularly on education and labour market policy, for employer and employee organisations, for trainers of teachers and guidance counsellors, for basic and upper secondary level education institutions, and for parties involved in youth leisure time, such as clubs and youth sector associations. It also produces material for general social discussion. Young people are the key target group of the project, and the project actively communicates with them on a “from young people to young people” basis. The project data is made up of an extensive quantitative section and separately collected qualitative interview data.

The project is being implemented in cooperation by the Finnish Youth Research Network and the Research Foundation for Studies and Education (Otus). The project’s research group comprises Research Professor Tommi Hoikkala and Research Director Sinikka Aapola from the Finnish Youth Research Network, and Development Manager Elina Nurmikari, Researcher Atte Vieno and Researcher Juhani Saari from the Research Foundation for Studies and Education (Otus).

Funded by: The Government’s Analysis, Assessment and Research Activities (VN TEAS) Duration of project: 4/2017–6/2019.


Tommi Hoikkala

Tommi Hoikkala

Research Professor emeritus

Adjunct Professor (University of Helsinki), Adjunct Professor (Aalto University), Doctor H.C. (University of Uppsala)

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Researcher profile