Education: Girls Are Gaining on Boys

From "The Happy Introvert"

From “The Happy Introvert”

reading bookPolicymakers in many countries worry about growing numbers of ill-educated men. Boys do less homework and are more likely to fail in all subjects. Girls now do better than boys in grade school and universities. Women dominate in education, health, arts and humanities and trounce boys in literacy. Medicine and law have increasingly been captured by women.

Boys do better in mathematics. Men lead in computing, engineering and physics. But prejudices continue to hamper girls—and boys, too.

The information in this blog is mainly provided by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development), a think-tank or forum based in Paris. I have pared two articles down from the 3-7-15 Economist: Nature plus nurture and The weaker sex. In the OECD mostly rich governments work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. In several member countries about 60% of graduates are women.

  • When teachers mark a reading test without knowing who took it, the gender gap shrinks by a third. So whenever possible, tests should be made anonymous. Most teachers are now women, who give better marks, perhaps unconsciously, to punctual, orderly and neat students. Falling behind in literacy, as boys disproportionately do, is worrying, since reading is needed to learn anything else.
  • If girls believe they can’t do math and boys think books are sissy, neither will do as well as they could. Young boys are more likely to read when the topic is zombies or superheroes; older ones prefer newspapers or comic books.
  • In just a couple of generations, one gender gap has closed, only for another to open up.Until the 1960s boys spent longer and went further in school than girls. Now, Sweden has commissioned research into its “boy crisis”. Australia has a reading program called “Boys, Blokes, Books & Bytes”.
  • In reading, girls are now ahead by an average of an extra year of schooling. Teenage boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail to achieve basic proficiency in math, reading and science, and are prone to drop out of school altogether. The OECD deems literacy to be the most important skill it assesses.
  • The average 15-year-old girl devotes an hour more a week to homework than the average boy, who spends more time playing video games and trawling the internet. Three-quarters of girls read for pleasure, compared with little more than half of boys. Reading rates are falling everywhere as screens draw eyes from pages, but boys give up faster.
  • Boys are twice as likely to think school is a “waste of time”, and more often turn up late. The OECD urges parents and policymakers to steer boys away from a version of masculinity that ignores academic achievement.
  • “Boys try to live up to certain expectations in terms of [bad] behavior.” Their disdain for school might have been less irrational when there were plenty of jobs for uneducated men. But those days are gone.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be forced to repeat a year, even when they are of equal ability.
  • Many teachers mark up students who are polite, eager and stay out of fights, attributes that are more common among girls. In some countries, academic points can be docked for bad behavior.
  • In the OECD countries, women now make up 56% of students enrolled, up from 46% in 1985. Meanwhile several, including America, Britain and parts of Scandinavia, have 50% more women than men on campus.
  • Social change has done more to encourage women to enter higher education than any deliberate policy, but equal pay and access to the best jobs will not come without big structural changes.
  • Girls nearly everywhere seem more ambitious than boys, both academically and in their careers. Although women are now better qualified, they earn about three-quarters as much as men.
  • At the highest levels of business and the professions, women remain scarce. Anonymous and therefore gender-blind essays and exams at university protect female students from bias. But in the workplace traditional patterns assert themselves.

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