When It Comes to Gender Gaps, Attitudes Trump Performance, Study Finds

By Jacob Bell — March 05, 2015 2 min read
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While education systems in the United States and abroad have narrowed performance gaps between boys and girls in recent years, gender bias among parents, teachers, and employers continues to affect student attitudes towards school and employment, according to a new report.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released the report, titled “ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behavior, and Confidence,” on Thursday. The study looked at the performances of nearly half a million 15-year-old students across 64 countries.

Researchers found that despite higher performance in reading and similar performance in science, girls were less confident in their scholastic abilities than boys.

Boys, conversely, were more likely than girls to be low achieving—14 percent of boys surveyed in the study didn’t meet PISA baseline profiency for reading, math or science, compared to 9 percent of girls surveyed.

Researchers also found differing outlooks toward education and career paths. Boys tended to have a more negative attitude toward school and higher dropout rates, yet were also more likely to pursue internships or seek jobs in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—fields.

These attitudes come less from aptitude disparities and more from differing gender treatment at home and at school, according to Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which oversees PISA.

Parents are more likely to expect their sons to pursue careers in STEM fields, Schleicher said. Data from the report showed 50 percent of the parents surveyed expected their sons to pursue such careers, whereas 20 percent expected the same of their daughters.

The exceptions to this trend were East Asian countries, where student performance and parental expectations were high across both genders.

In addition, the data shows that teachers gave girls higher grades in subjects like math even when their work was the same quality as boys. This, according to Schleicher, could be due to boys’ poorer attitudes towards school.

The report concludes with policy and practice tips for eliminating gender disparities in education and employment. They include improving career advice and orientation services in schools, building girls’ self-confidence through positive reinforcement of their abilities and talents, and providing strategies for teachers, such as recognizing their own gender biases or allowing students more individualized approaches to what they read or learn.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.