Fear of Failure

Fear of Failure in Young Women: Why is it so Prevalent?


Findings from The PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment ) suggest that British teenage girls rank alarmingly highly for their fear of failure. Of the 79 nations surveyed, our country’s 15-year old girls ranked as the fifth most afraid of failure, behind only Taipei, Macau, Singapore and Brunei. But why are our teenage girls so afraid of failure? Here, I explore 6 possible reasons:

Pressure to land the perfect job

The pressure to perform in GCSE examinations heighten students’ anxieties about so many factors on which they perceive their results to hinge on; these include future job prospects and earning an income to provide for themselves and others. Being seen as successful often means a full-time well-paid job and high-flying status, rather than a happy balance between pursuing a passion, an income and enjoyment of life.

Societal expectations

Social media and online advertising are rife with those boasting of high-flying careers, a happy marriage to a handsome, successful partner and the perfect picture poster family. Why would a teenager not feel the pressure to conform?

Peer-pressure from social media

Similarly, there is a constant bombardment of social media posts from friends about their successes, holidays, promotions and material purchases. This added to the pressure to look and feel perfect by being exposed to heavily filtered images portraying an unattainable perfect body image.

Fear of failure in an adult world

Children are not immune to family issues. There are real and potential stresses, such as the divorce of parents, that affect youngsters even in primary school. Family breakdown has a detrimental impact on children’s personal life and exam results, according to a study from family lawyers’ association, Resolution. Their research found that 65% of children of divorced parents thought their GCSE results had been adversely affected.

Pressure to look the part

According to Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study, 36% of women who felt high levels of stress related this to their comfort with their appearance and body image, compared to 23% of men. Young women feel the need to look good, often developing the impression that this is intrinsically linked to the image of success.

The odds are stacked against them

It’s not hard to see that the odds are stacked against women in many sectors. According to ONS data, the gender pay gap stands at 8.9% amongst full-time employees. Women often lag some way behind their male counterparts from the start of their career, and this only increases the pressure to achieve.

How can the fear of failure be addressed, then? Well, it was considerably lower in European countries Germany and the Netherlands. Could it be that the 15-year strong leadership of Chancellor Merkel gives reassurance to women that it’s possible to break the glass ceiling?

It would appear that Dutch women have a far greater work / life balance – many Dutch women work part-time. Could a societal change in the perspective of what constitutes success and happiness for women create the real change for our youngsters? Times are changing, and perhaps so should the huge expectations and pressure we put on our young people to succeed.

Details of the UK findings can be found here: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_GBR.pdf

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