Gender Gaps Persist in Reading and Math, Study Finds

Math and reading gender gaps persist even in countries working hard to eliminate them, reports Futurity.org’s Rachel Barson-Leeds. Despite the fact that the UK invests extensively in equality efforts, it continues to have the widest gender gap in the world in math, followed closely by the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Leeds, one of the authors of a study that looked at 1.5 million students from 75 countries, says that the gender gap in math and science persists and is even wider at the top – between the best performing girls and boys. This is a discouraging finding, especially in light of a number of recent reports suggesting that the performance gap is closing.

Stoet goes on to say that this is likely to continue to have an impact on the efforts to bring more women into the STEM fields because there continues to be a gap in performance prior to students entering college and university.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study comes at a time where there are calls in the UK to increase the number of students studying math after the age 16. Recent findings from the Nuffield Foundation, a charitable trust funding research in education, has also identified performance and attitudes towards math are important factors in determining whether or not young people continue with the subject.

At the same time that experts continue to stress over the gender gap in math, they also need to make room for similar problems when it comes to reading. The study shows that girls continue to substantially outperform boys in reading, but with the gap being widest with low-performers.

Geary points out that at its extreme, the gap between genders when it comes to reading is three times wider than the gap in math.

The researchers say girls’ higher scores in reading could lead to advantages in admissions to certain university programs, such as marketing, journalism or literature, and subsequently careers in those fields. Boys lower reading scores could correlate to problems in any career, since reading is essential in most jobs.

“The gender gap in reading gets less attention in the media than the gender gap in maths,” Stoet says. “Yet there was not a single country in which boys exceed girls in reading. And crucially, amongst boys and girls at the lower end of academic performance scale, the gap is not only greater, it is growing.

The good news is that a country that focuses on closing the gender disparity is likely to be rewarded in at least one way. In countries like the UK and the US where the math gap is large, the reading gap is much smaller. In the countries where the gap in performance between women and men in math is smaller, the reading gap is larger.