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High-school subject selections linked to Australia's gender

MELBOURNE, March 9 (Xinhua) -- The huge wage gap between men and women in Australia can be explained by subject selections made in high school, an Australian study has found.

Analyzing education data, researchers from Melbourne University linked an under-representation of females in high-paying engineering and information technology (IT) jobs to girls rejecting certain classes during their time at secondary school.

Co-authors Professor Moshe Justman and Doctor Susan Mendez found schoolgirls were less likely to enrol in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subjects than their male counterparts, despite generally testing better.

A recent report revealed that Australian women, who make up 42 percent of the nation's total workforce, earn 17.2 percent less than men.

"We know that much of the wage gap is due to differences in pay between fields, so we wanted to find out the role of high school subject selection in driving career paths and therefore the wage gap," Mendez said in statement on Wednesday.

"We found that girls simply aren't doing the subjects required in order to launch a career in the highly paid engineering or IT industries."

The team uncovered the trend by tracking the subject selections of an entire high-school cohort that began attending Victorian secondary schools in 2008 and finished in 2013.

The block of 58,000 students showed girls tended to be very reluctant to take up classes that required STEM skills, such as physics, information technology and specialist mathematics.

In the wake of International Women's Day, Mendez said old, unfounded stereotypes that women struggled with math and science subjects needed to be totally dismissed, giving young girls more confidence to choose STEM classes.

"These STEM subjects require strong mathematical skills, and unfortunately many people believe that girls do not choose these subjects because they lack the necessary mathematical skills," said Mendez.

"Girls who are good at mathematics favor biology and human development, subjects that can launch a career in allied health. These professions are generally not as well paid as other STEM industries."

"Many girls who think they are not good enough at mathematics to study in physics and information technology could succeed at these subjects and should be encouraged to try."

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