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The New Majority: A View into the Motivations and Aspirations Of Iran's Women in Higher Education


The study explores Iranian college women's intentions and goals in pursuing higher education degrees and empirically examines what might explain their disproportionate levels of representation within the work force despite their overwhelming representation in universities and their desire to work outside the home.

Survey questionnaires were administered to college-going women and men in four universities in Tehran to explore the reasons women chose to pursue higher education and their professional aspirations after university. The quantitative data found that women pursued higher education to improve their skills in their field and to learn about the things that interest them, and least of all to get away from the home environment, to find a spouse, due to job availability, or because "there was nothing better to do." Both women and men indicated very strong parental support of their educational pursuits (with women scoring higher) and varied reactions to their parents' expectation that they work (with men scoring higher).

The qualitative portion of the study comprised interviews with college women to ascertain the above, as well as what factors may contribute to their aspirations and efforts. Some of the motivations for pursuing higher education were similar to the quantitative findings such as increasing social status and learning about the things that interest them. Others were starkly different, such the desire to find a spouse, having nothing better to do, or simply because it was considered the only possible course of action to take. The findings found women faced many obstacles and barriers both within the university setting as well as in their efforts and desire to secure employment, such as an unsupportive university setting, unrealistic and unfair societal expectations, and an unsafe or unwelcoming professional environment. The study also presents a new Iranian feminist framework that builds upon precedented feminist theories, but more effectively speaks to the complexity of the education/occupation divide in Iranian women's unique case. The framework's robustness is supported by the data and argues that in considering educational and career aspirations of university women in Iran, the following must be taken into account: The outlier women who successfully enter the work force, especially within prestigious professions and positions; societal perceptions; national policies; economic climate; institutional and workforce climate; globalization; family; and women's perceptions of all of the above.

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