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RESEARCH

Not so gender-equal? Swedish teens still plan careers according to gender, study shows

Swedish teenagers’ plans for their future careers are heavily influenced by their gender, a new study shows, and girls' doubts over their abilities to succeed in male-dominated sectors are a decisive factor.

Not so gender-equal? Swedish teens still plan careers according to gender, study shows
File photo of a Swedish high school class. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix / TT

Both boys and girls are reluctant to enter professions dominated by the opposite gender, leading to gender segregation later on in the world of work, the study from Lund University shows. 

“We already knew that there's a large gender segregation in Sweden, but what we didn't expect to find was that girls still under-estimated their abilities in masculine stereotyped areas such as technology,” Una Tellhed,  who was project leader on the study, told The Local.

“Girls also underestimated how well they thought they would do in male-dominated professions such as engineering. Since Sweden is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, we were hoping that maybe our 15-year-old girls would have moved past these stereotypes, but they're still alive and kicking!”

Researchers interviewed 2,600 15-year-olds for the study, at which age Swedish children begin choosing the subjects they will study in upper secondary school, which can be decisive for their future career.

Both boys and girls were less likely to choose subjects associated with the opposite gender, due to a range of factors, including their personal priorities (for example, whether they valued helping others over achieving high social status), concerns over fitting in within certain sectors, and perceptions of their ability to succeed in certain areas.

But among girls, Tellhed said that belief in their own abilities was the most important variable, followed by worries about fitting in. “Girls were slightly more likely to prioritize helping others over achieving a high status in their career than boys, but this had only a very small influence compared to these other factors,” she explained.

READ ALSO: Gender segregated school bus not discriminatory, Swedish equality watchdog rules

Meanwhile, boys typically thought they would be able to do equally well in male-dominated and female-dominated fields. Like girls, however, they worried they would be less well accepted in a sector dominated by the other sex.

Tellhed hopes her research will be valuable in tackling gender segregation in Sweden's workforce, something she believes will benefit both Swedish society and individuals.

“We need more men to take an interest in nursing and more women to take an interest in technology, partly because it's important for the labour market to be able to recruit both men and women,” she said.

“But it's also a problem because men and women are more similar than they are different psychologically, so it's sad that people may not find the career that would match them best, just because it's not associated with their gender. Hopefully we will start to talk more about gender similarity instead of gender difference.”

Finding out which factors lead to gender segregation can help the government and educators tackle it more effectively, and encourage children to consider less gender-typical occupations.

“So now we know that ability-belief is the most important factor for women, we can work on ways to strengthen this self-belief. For men, we need to find out if it would be more efficient to raise the status of nursing to make it more attractive to them, or to try to make boys more interested in helping others — this needs more research,” Tellhed explained.

READ ALSO: Sweden to ban single-sex classrooms

RELIGION

Inside the Church of Sweden, where women outnumber men as priests

Women now outnumber men as priests in Sweden, but there's still gender inequality within the Swedish Church, those working in it admit.

Inside the Church of Sweden, where women outnumber men as priests
Visby's cathedral. File photo: Anders Wiklund/SCANPIX/TT

Her white clergy robes flowing behind her, Sandra Signarsdotter walks down the aisle of Stockholm's Gustaf Vasa church greeting parishioners, a ritual of hers and a familiar sight in Sweden.

In the Scandinavian country, often hailed as a champion of gender equality, the statistics are clear. As of July, 50.1 percent of priests are women and 49.9 percent are men. It's very likely the first Church in the world to have a majority of women priests, according to the World Council of Churches.

In the Protestant Lutheran Church of Sweden, which has 5.8 million members in a country of 10.3 million and where ministers hold the title of priest, “women are here to stay,” insists Signarsdotter, who was ordained six years ago.

Since 2014, even the head of the Church is a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelen.

GENDER IN SWEDEN:


Archbishop Antje Jackelen. Photo: Pontus Lundahl / TT

At the Gustaf Vasa church, a smattering of worshippers wait for the service to begin.

“This Sunday, the service will be conducted by three women,” the 37-year-old priest says proudly.

Coincidentally, it was in this imposing white church in the heart of Sweden's capital that another woman, Anna Howard Shaw, an American Methodist pastor and suffragette, became the first clergywoman to preach in Sweden.

That was in 1911, at an international women's suffrage conference, and long before women could be ordained in the Church of Sweden, in 1958.

“The men didn't allow her to go up there,” explains Signarsdotter, pointing to the marble pulpit above her. “She was allowed only on the floor,” she says, standing at the altar as if to mark the spot.

This Sunday, the service will be held by Julia Svensson, a 23-year-old theology student whom Signarsdotter is mentoring — and she will give her sermon from the pulpit.
 

The feminisation of Sweden's priesthood is also seen at universities, where the 4.5-year theology studies required to become a priest are dominated by women.

Protestants generally believe that a priest is an expert, a theologist who tends to a congregation, and not a calling, in contrast to the Catholic Church which opposes women priests.

The rising number of women may be due to priests' changing roles over the years, suggests Signarsdotter.

“The priest's role today is not what it was before. There are other requirements, (such as) kindliness … (and) being able to handle many different situations.”

“Historically men have held it for themselves but now we see it happening all over the world. Things are changing and new paths are open to us as female priests and women in general.”

Outside the Gustav Vasa Kyrka in Stockholm. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

One who has benefitted from the rising number of female priests is stylist Maria Sjodin, who designs vestments for women and whose business is booming.

In her atelier in a southern Stockholm suburb, the designer recently welcomed a regular customer, a female priest looking for a new collared top. One could say divine intervention landed Sjodin here: in 2001 her daughter
made a new friend at kindergarten, whose mother was a priest.

“She asked me to make her a priest shirt, because she didn't like the male shirt that she had to wear,” she recalled.
The piece remains one of the most popular in her collection.

'Still a way to go'

But while women priests now outnumber men, inequality remains.

Women priests earn around 2,200 kronor (213 euros, $253) less a month than their male counterparts, according to the specialised newspaper Kyrkans Tidning.

And fewer women reach top positions within the Church. Of the country's 13 dioceses, only four are headed by women.
 

“We haven't reached equality yet,” says Signarsdotter. “There's still a way to go.”

Her protege Svensson chips in: “We must be a representation of all people.”

After a moment of silence, Signarsdotter admits that sexism still stalks the cloisters of the Church in Sweden.
“One day, a colleague told me 'What a nice ass you have'. I am still seen as a body and not a professional.”

She says things will not change as long as “patriarchal structures (remain) in the walls and the structures of society, and the Church as an organisation.”

But she is not giving up hope. “When I retire I will look at Julia as an archbishop and will be like 'damn, we did good'.”                             

By Nioucha Zakavati

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