Gender Gaps Persist in United States as Girls Outperform Boys

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A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has found that boys are less likely to be engaged in school than their female counterparts, have lower skills, poorer academic achievements, and are more likely to leave school early.

The report looked at the scores of 15-year-olds who took the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam in an effort to find out why boys were more likely to not meet baseline requirements for proficiency in three core subjects.  In 2012, 14% of boys and 9% of girls across more than 30 participating OECD countries did not meet these baseline requirements.

Researchers found the gap to be partially caused by boys spending an average of one hour less on homework than girls do.  In the United States that number increases to an average of 1.8 hours.  In addition, less time is spent reading and more time spent playing video games, writes Allie Bidwell for US News.

“If a large share of the workforce does not have basic skills, the long-term growth of an economy is compromised,” the report says. “Public finances may be squeezed to fund social benefits and higher healthcare costs. Moreover, since low-performing students are less likely to engage politically later on, the government has fewer incentives to unearth and examine the roots of their underperformance at school.”

The report also found that increasing academic skills could mean economic gains in the long run.  The overall academic increase on an international level over the past 50 years, according to the report, is responsible for half of the entire economic growth in the same period.  More than half of that growth is due to the academic achievement of women in higher education.

According to a previous report, higher test scores in math and science on the PISA just within the United States could result in a $10 trillion increase for the economy by 2050.

Despite these results, the report did find traditional gender roles persisting in some areas.  On average, high-performing male students scored 19 points higher than their female peers in math.  Girls were found to be more likely to have lower confidence in their own skills, making them more anxious when it comes to math, reports Melissa Korn for The Wall Street Journal.

That trend was found to have continued through the college years.  Among countries who participate in the PISA exam, 14% of women decided to follow a science-related career path in the STEM field, in comparison to 39% of men.

“Low-achieving boys appear to be trapped in a cycle of poor performance, low motivation, disengagement with school and lack of ambition, while high-achieving girls are somehow thwarted from using their mathematical skills in more specialised higher education and, ultimately, in their careers,” the report said.

These same results were not duplicated globally, and thus are not believed to be due to an innate difference in ability.  For students in top-performing areas such as Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China and Chinese Taipei, no gender gaps were reported.

“Teachers can help by becoming more aware of their own gender biases that may affect how they award marks to students,” the report said. “A concerted effort by parents, teachers, policymakers and opinion leaders is needed if both boys and girls are to be able to realise their full potential and contribute to the economic growth and well-being of their societies.”