How do young women perceive and shape the culture of postsecondary education in rural Canada?

Alexa Ferdinands, Dana Wagner, Maria Mayan

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

Abstract

Background and Objective: Postsecondary educational attainment, one of the most compelling social determinants of health, is lower (45%) than the national average (65%) for women in Drayton Valley, a rural oil and gas town in Canada. Traditional gender roles are entrenched in Drayton Valley, including social norms surrounding education. Men are encouraged to enter well-paid oil field work straight from high school, making it possible to have one income-earner families where women can be at home with children. However, undertaking postsecondary education may help mitigate health consequences (e.g., increased stress, anxiety) for young women growing up in a unstable boom-and-bust economy. To shift social norms, deep understanding of the local culture of education is needed. In this study, conducted in partnership with the Town of Drayton Valley, we aim to explore how young women perceive and shape the culture of postsecondary education in their community. Methods: We used focused ethnography to achieve this aim. Focused ethnography focuses on culture as it pertains to discrete social phenomena and contexts. Since July 2022, we have completed 16 individual interviews with young women living in Drayton Valley aged 16–19. Questions revolve around participants’ experiences of growing up in Drayton Valley, how they plan for their futures after high school, their hopes and dreams, and perceived barriers to and opportunities for postsecondary education. Qualitative content analysis is being used to analyze findings. Results: Findings suggest that young women are challenging gender roles and stereotypes traditionally tied to notions of femininity in rural oil and gas communities. Analyses remain underway; final themes will be presented at the Congress. Conclusions: Findings may be relevant for other rural communities around the world interested in shifting social norms, including those tied to gender, around postsecondary education, as a means of improving young women’s health and social outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA681
JournalPopulation Medicine
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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