Many people think girls are disadvantaged in education in South Africa. While that might be somewhat true among the very poorest girls, on average girls actually do better than boys.

They learn to read much more quickly than boys do (which is true of pretty much all middle- and high-income countries). In South Africa girls also perform better in mathematics. Based on large nationally representative surveys conducted between 2011 and 2015 we can see that by Grade 4, girls are a full year ahead of their male peers in reading, despite being in the same grade. By Grade 5, girls are about 40% of a year of learning ahead of boys in mathematics.

These trends continue into university and as Stellenbosch University Associate professor Nic Spaull notes: ‘We find strong evidence of a large female advantage that continues to grow at each hurdle of the higher education process.

‘To be specific, relative to their male counterparts we find that there were 27% more females who qualified for university, 34% more who enroll in university, 56% more who complete any undergraduate qualification and 66% more who attain a bachelor’s degree. This despite there being roughly equal numbers of boys and girls at the start of school.’

He goes on to say: ‘In the 33 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – mainly a club of rich countries – 58% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women (in SA it is 61%).’

Not just at school

According to US-based online lending marketplace, Lending Tree, there is not a single metro in the US where single men have a higher homeownership rate than single women. US Census Bureau data analysed by LendingTree shows that single women are more likely than single men to own a home in each of the nation’s 50 largest metros.

In total, single women own nearly 1.6 million more homes than single men do in America’s 50 largest metros. Single women own about 5.2 million homes, while single men own about 3.6 million homes.

This same pattern holds true in both Canada and South Africa. In 2018 single women in Canada were buying homes at twice the rate of single men and were only behind married couples in terms of home ownership (as is the case in the US). While in the US, women are also buying more expensive homes (6% more), in South Africa, single women buy less expensive homes.

In the workplace

Even the world of work is changing as more and more women enroll in dental, medical, and law schools across North America and Western Europe. In fact, women make up a majority in medical occupations and dentistry in Canada and make up about 46% of those in law. In the UK, women are a majority in dentistry and are closing the gap in medicine and law.

The focus on a lack of representation of women in STEM jobs is hiding this progress in other lucrative career tracks. In fact, as early as 2008, six in 10 dental school graduates in North America were women. Women outnumber men in both British medical and dental schools.

In 2020 in the UK, there were 160 000 male doctors and about 141 000 female doctors. This number will change as more and more women from British medical schools enter the workforce.

What does it mean?

What all of this is meant to highlight is simply that the women’s movement has been wildly successful in opening up opportunities to women in formerly closed-off and male spaces. There is no patriarchy systematically holding women back from being ambitious and going after their dreams.

There is however a motherhood penalty, and that is less of an issue of policy and more an interpersonal issue of social expectations within communities and individual relationships. Mothers are penalized in the workplace more than both single men and women who do not have children. 

It also means that the norms and expectations men and women have of each other are going to have to change to keep up with the realities of the modern world. There simply is not and will not be enough men making enough money to sustain the idea of a man as a ‘provider’ as a main trait, and to look for ‘home maker’ when it comes to women.

Many men in fact make less than their partners. As early as 2014, some 12% of stay-at-home parents in Canada were men: a trend set to continue and which is up from one percent in the late 1970s.

A failure to adjust to these new roles has been pinpointed by academics and researchers as one of the main reasons not only why female happiness has been declining, but also why women are initiating divorce 70% of the time.


The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Sindile Vabaza is an avid writer and an aspiring economist.