Sixth-form girls are much less confident about their job prospects than boys, according to new research by Oxford University.

According to a study of almost 3,700 sixth-formers, three-quarters of girls believe their male counterparts will get higher-paid salaries after leaving university.

The survey - undertaken by Oxford University - also says the two sexes have very different attitudes when it comes to what they want from their careers.

Girls' schools taking part in the project included and Oxford High School and St Mary's Cambridge.

Jonathan Black, director of the university's Careers Service, said: "Our research has confirmed that gender-based differences in career confidence start early.

"Sixth-form girls have lower confidence about their career and, compared with boys, are more concerned about each aspect of job application, and are more interested in careers that offer job security.

"This has the knock-on effect that girls may be self-limiting their choice of careers, especially because the types of jobs they seek often have informal entry processes - for example networking or low and unpaid internships."

The research - of 3,698 students from 63 different UK schools and colleges - found that 56 per cent of boys and 75 per cent of girls think men receive higher pay in their jobs after university.

It also found that on a scale of one to six (with six being most confident), girls rated their job prospects after university as 3.7 while the figure for boys was higher at 4.3.

Mr Black added: "Girls may be self-limiting their choice of careers, especially because the types of jobs they seek often have informal entry processes - via networking or low and unpaid internships, for example.

"We are exploring ways to intervene and equip school pupils to improve their career confidence."

Mr Black's findings will be presented at the Girls' Schools Association (GSA) conference, which is taking place in Newport, South Wales.

Among delegates speaking to 200 headteachers at the Celtic Manor Resort on Monday was Karen Parker, founder and owner of business consultancy firm Karen Parker Associates.

She said: "Across corporate life we still see a gender pyramid of achievement. Most corporations are employing 50 per cent male graduates and 50 per cent female graduates.

"But by the time we reach middle management, the split is approximately 70/30.

"And by the time we reach the corporate level, less than 10 per cent of positions are held by women."

GSA president Alun Jones, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said: "We know girls really struggle with confidence issues as they enter the workplace.

"High-achieving girls leave our schools with strings of top grades, go on to get good degrees but some of them seem to stall when it comes to pursuing high-level careers."