More women than men in higher education for 23 consecutive years
More and more people in the Netherlands are following higher education. For example, over the past decade, HBO (higher professional education) enrolments increased from 424 thousand in the 2011/’12 academic year to over 491 thousand in 2021/’22. At university (WO) level, enrolments increased from more than 245 thousand to almost 345 thousand.
The gender balance in higher education has remained fairly constant over the past decade. In the 2021/’22 academic year, 54 percent of university enrolments and 53 percent of higher professional education enrolments were female students. The gender gap is already visible in pre-university education (VWO): since the 1995/’96 school year, there are more female than male graduates.
|Year||HBO (%)||WO (%)|
|1) No data available for the years 1972 and 1973. * Provisional figures.|
In the middle of the last century, still twice as many men as women were studying in higher education. Higher education was then only for a small elite, those who could afford it. Back then, with 17 thousand women and 45 thousand men, the numbers were smaller than today. In the late 1960s, the Dutch Secondary Education Act (Mammoetwet) came into force. The purpose of this act was to improve the accessibility of education. Secondary education changed significantly as a result. In addition, compulsory education was raised up to 16 years of age. This caused a surge in higher education enrolments. Initially, men found their way to the college benches more often than women. This changed as of the 1970s. In a span of ten years, women’s share in higher education rose from 30 percent around 1970 to 40 percent at the end of the decade.
Most young women highly educated
The increase in women’s higher education attendance is also reflected in the current education level of the population. In 2022, 60 percent of 25 to 34-year-old women in the Netherlands had either an HBO or a WO (university) diploma. This was slightly over half among men in this age group. In the age group 35 to 44 years as well, there were relatively more women than men who had completed HBO or WO education, but the gender gap was not as wide. In the age group 45 years and over, on the contrary, there were more highly educated men than women. The greatest discrepancy is found in the group 65 to 74 years: 29 percent of men against 23 percent of women had completed HBO or WO education.
|age||sex||Low (%)||Intermediate (%)||High (%)||Unknown (%)|
|25 to 34 yrs||Men||11.4||36||52||0.6|
|25 to 34 yrs||Women||8.3||30.8||60.2||0.5|
|35 to 44 yrs||Men||16.5||34.7||48.1||0.8|
|35 to 44 yrs||Women||12.3||34.2||52.9||0.7|
|45 to 54 yrs||Men||20.7||37.3||40.9||1.1|
|45 to 54 yrs||Women||18.3||39.7||40.8||1.2|
|55 to 64 yrs||Men||28.6||37.7||32.8||0.9|
|55 to 64 yrs||Women||30.8||39.2||29.1||0.9|
|65 to 74 yrs||Men||34.5||35.5||29.3||0.6|
|65 to 74 yrs||Women||46.2||31||22.1||0.8|
Highest shares of female students in health care, education, and journalism
The gender balance is dfferent per study discipline. Women mainly outnumber men in the disciplines of health care, social studies, and education. Conversely, more men than women take engineering and computer science programmes. In addition, the share of women differs per level within each discipline. For example, the share of women studying agriculture and veterinary science at university level is relatively much higher than at HBO level in the same discipline.
|Discipline||Type of education||Women (%)||Men (%)|
|Health and welfare||HBO||77||23|
|Health and welfare||WO||69||31|
|Journalism, social sciences||HBO||70||30|
|Journalism, social sciences||WO||68||32|
|Design, arts, languages, history||HBO||59||41|
|Design, arts, languages, history||WO||60||40|
|Mathematics, natural sciences||HBO||45||55|
|Mathematics, natural sciences||WO||48||52|
|Agriculture, veterinary medicine and care||HBO||43||57|
|Agriculture, veterinary medicine and care||WO||64||36|
|Law, administration, commerce||HBO||40||60|
|Law, administration, commerce||WO||48||52|
|Civil and industrial engineering||HBO||23||77|
|Civil and industrial engineering||WO||29||71|
- News release - Young people relatively often choose secondary vocational education
- News release - No gender gap in higher education