ESRI Geary Lecture 2020: Has the Gender Revolution Stalled?

23 Feb 2021
Gender equality is one of the core principles of AONTAS’ work. Last year, AONTAS Research Officer, Laura Lovejoy, had the opportunity to attend the Economic and Social Research Institute’s 2020 Geary Lecture. This year’s lecture was given by Professor Paula England, a Professor of Sociology at NYU, and focused on continuing gender inequalities across earning potential and fields of study comparing evidence gathered from both the United States and Ireland. Professor England’s research shows that while, in the United States, women are now surpassing men in attaining baccalaureate and doctoral degrees (England, 2020) , much work remains to be done in advancing gender equality, as fields of study remain gender segregated and women still earn less than men.

The lecture illustrated how the accelerated progress in gender equality experienced in the 1970s has stalled from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries onward. Professor England highlighted some key areas in which progress towards gender equality has stalled in recent decades, and offered suggestions as to why this may be the case. Focusing on trends in Ireland and the United States, she discussed diminishing progress in gender equality in the workplace, fields of study, and earnings. Noting that COVID-19 has added another dimension to gender inequality, she focused on statistics on gender representation in:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Fields of study
  • Occupation
  • Earnings and
  • Class

    Female Employment and Wages

    Evidence has shown that men’s employment in the United States has declined slowly in the period 1970 to 2018. However, there has been no net gain in women’s employment since the mid-1990s. Ireland shows a similar pattern to the US, with women’s employment stalling since about 2010.

    More concerningly is that the growth in female employment, when it was occurring, did not fix the significant wage gap that exists between men and women. There were a number of reasons cited for this, including:

    The stalling in rising female employment figures and wage earnings were linked to political and cultural barriers that remain in place. Firstly, the United States and Ireland have gotten rid of clear policies against hiring women and clear policies of paying women less. Without a clear focus on monitoring these areas, implicit forms of bias have allowed disparities to continue. For instance, employers may be guilty of significant pay gaps between male and female staff, but without wage transparency, this can be difficult to prove. Female dominated professions, as well, tend to be paid less. Finally, women’s role as carers in homes does not hold the same value as it once previously did.

    Connection to AONTAS Work

    Education, particularly, adult education has a vital role in play in redressing this gap.  In our Apprenticeship Action Plan 2021-2025 Consultation Paper submission to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, we highlighted the “astonishingly low participation rate of women in apprenticeship” (7). Just 4% of those enrolled in apprenticeships are women, and “apprenticeships cater to traditionally male-dominated professions” (7). Our apprenticeship consultation submission found that “for many programmes, the perception that they are not valid options for women and that women are not being effectively targeted means that they are not a real option for many women” (7). Additionally, women are at a financial disadvantage when it comes to their learning. As Eve Cobain and Leah Dowdall have recently shown, funding discrepancies between apprenticeships and other kinds of study, such as community education, highlight the comparative devalued status of female-dominated fields of study compared to more traditionally male-dominated courses. They write that, in 2018, “the difference in investment between a community education learner (€221.89) and a more traditional further education and training learner (€1052.77) stood at €830.88 (Cobain and Dowdall, 2021). It is notable that the community education sector in Ireland, in which women are overrepresented, has “consistently struggled for parity of esteem with the formal educational sector and has been significantly under-funded” (Cobain and Dowdall, 2021).


    Each of these areas requires cultural and institutional attention if we are to continue progressing towards gender equality. Adult education has a role to play in this shift. It is through adult education that we can ensure that we not only improve the processes for women in the future, but we seek to redress the gaps that continue to prevail in the past and present. Improving educational opportunities for women across all fields of study is part of AONTAS’ work in achieving educational equality and working for a more equal society. For this reason, we will continue to share with you information and research we believe can help inform our work in this area.


    To find out more about ESRI’s Geary Lecture series, click here or contact

    To find out more about Professor Paula England’s research, click here.


    Cobain, E., and Dowdall, L. The Feminist Aesthetic and Climate Action: A Case Study on Roscommon Women’s Network. Forthcoming, 2021.

    England, P., Levine, A., and Mishel, E. (2020). Progress toward gender equality in the United States has slowed or stalled. PNAS, 117(13) 6990-6997.