Gender differences in early school leaving. Academic performance, family resources, and labor-market opportunities.

With Camilla Borgna (Collegio Carlo Alberto, Turin)

Given the rising skill demands of the labor market, early school leavers constitute a vulnerable group in contemporary societies: young people who do not hold any kind of upper-secondary qualification tend to experience difficulties in transitioning to the first job and in later labor market integration. Early school leaving is also connected to other negative outcomes such as poor health and lack of civic and political participation. From a policy perspective, early school leaving can therefore be considered a “new social risk”, as recognized by the EU strategy for growth for which the reduction of early school leaving to less than 10% is one of the main five targets to be met until the year 2020. Not only is early school leaving connected to negative labor market outcomes, but it also tends to hit the social groups that are most vulnerable in terms of labor market integration: children with learning difficulties, coming from socio-economically disadvantaged families or who have access to limited educational resources. Hence, early school leaving exacerbates social inequalities. When it comes to gender, however, the definition of a vulnerable group may prove elusive, because while women still face labor market disadvantages in most industrialized societies, in terms of educational attainment they have caught up to men and, in many countries, even overtaken them. Together with Portugal and Spain, Italy is one of the EU countries with the greatest proportion of early school leavers. In this country, early school leaving has been steadily declining since the 1990s, when it reached percentages of 30% or more. However, as of today still 15% of young Italians leave education and training before completing the upper-secondary cycle. This phenomenon is therefore alarming, especially if we consider the increasing difficulties that Italian youth is facing in labor-market entry: it suffices to say that as of 2015 the youth unemployment rate reached 40%. Moreover, in Italy, gender disparities are particularly strong: on the one hand, women’s participation to the labor market is very low and, even among the young cohorts, the women who work are more likely than men to have atypical and poorly-paid jobs. On the other hand, the gender gap is reversed when it comes to education: young women outnumber men by three to two among tertiary graduates and boys are vastly overrepresented among the pupils who do not reach a basic level of competences in core subjects.

Publications in progress:

  • Struffolino E., Borgna C., Who is really left behind? Gender differences in the school-to-work transition of low-skilled youth in Italy.

  • Borgna, C., Struffolino E., Tempi difficili. Le condizioni occupazionali degli early school leavers in Italia prima e dopo la crisi [Hard times. Labor-market outcomes of early school leavers in Italy before and after the crisis]