Boys are quickly falling behind girls in basic skills like reading, maths, and science, demonstrating the success of a decades-long attempt to boost female achievement while revealing a troubling new gender gap: the rise of the unskilled, underemployed male.
In a review of new data published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris think-tank that assesses the achievements of wealthy countries, The Economist paints a complex picture of gender equality when it comes to scholastic achievement:
"The average 15-year-old girl devotes five-and-a-half hours a week to homework, an hour more 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. ... The OECD found that, among boys who do as much homework as the average girl, the gender gap in reading fell by nearly a quarter."
Instructors from wealthy boarding schools and cash-strapped public classrooms agree: boys are less interested in school, partially as a result of gender stereotypes requiring them to be tough rather than smart. The Economist also found that boys' marks suffer as a result of their behavioral problems in the classroom. In blind grading studies, teachers marked boys' exams less harshly when they the gender of the student wasn't apparent.
"Boys’ disdain for school might have been less irrational when there were plenty of jobs for uneducated men. But those days have long gone."
The results of the study also demonstrate, ironically, that confidence levels among girls are lower than among boys. This trend appears to continue throughout professional careers, contributing to the persistent paucity of women at higher levels in professional life.
When the importance of scholastic qualifications earned long ago begins to fade, qualities like personality, ambition, and experience come to matter more. In careers that are especially demanding, such as top medical and legal jobs, this may put women at a disadvantage as they leave at higher rates than men to spend time with children.
The relatively low pace of achievement among boys is an emerging gender gap that parents, educators, and politicians should not ignore.
Here is the OECD's complete 2014 education report.