Education Gender gaps in learning linked to socioeconomic status

Gender gaps in learning linked to socioeconomic status

Gender gaps in educational achievement of children are linked to their family’s socioeconomic status, according to new research from the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.

According to the study, girls from low and middle socio-economic backgrounds are better at reading than boys, while boys from high-socio-economic backgrounds are better at mathematics than girls.

Dr Julie Moschion from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research and Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark from the School of Economics at the University of Sydney, say this is not just a matter of one gender having an overall edge in terms of achievement.

“The variation of gender gaps across domains and socio-economic status supports the idea that skill advantages are not naturally gendered but are the result of complex human capital processes,” they say.

“And what creates these processes varies between boys and girls.”

The researchers say that girls’ advantage in reading originates even before starting school. Girls already scored better on a school readiness test at four years-old, and had better teacher-assessed literacy skills than boys in kindergarten. For boys, their advantage in numeracy develops later and appears more complex.

The researchers stress the importance of addressing these gender gaps early on as they are likely to spill over into other educational outcomes and undermine efforts to achieve gender equality more generally.

“Boys’ underachievement is especially worrying as it could reduce economic growth and social wellbeing in the future if it leads to higher drop-out rates, more mental health issues, more criminality or more unemployment,” they say.

“Of course, girls’ disadvantage in numeracy should not be forgotten either as it probably feeds into inequalities observed later on, such as investments in STEMS subjects, wages and glass ceiling effects”.

In practice, reading to boys more often and showing them that it is not a girls-only activity could enhance their literacy skills.

“For girls, parents and teachers could stimulate girls’ confidence in mathematics and show them that it is not a boy-only domain,” the researchers say.

Read more about this intriguing research here. Story credit: University of Melbourne newsroom.

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