International math, science and reading exams show that across dozens of countries, 15-year-old boys are more likely to be low achievers than 15-year-old girls, especially in reading. But among the highest-performing students, girls trail boys, and girls have far less confidence in their ability to solve math problems.
The analysis provides a trove of data on everything from the amount of time boys and girls in various countries spend playing video games and reading for pleasure to their views on school, their belief in themselves and their career expectations. It found that even though average performance varied widely across countries, gender gaps were remarkably consistent.
“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 says.
The report points out that girls in the highest-performing countries, such as China and Singapore, out-perform all boys in other countries. And though boys score lower in reading than girls in all countries, boys in the strongest education systems outscore girls elsewhere. In other words, the report says, both boys and girls can and do perform at high levels.
“These results strongly suggest that gender gaps in school performance are not determined by innate differences in ability,” the report says, calling on parents, teachers and policy makers to help identify and change social factors that contribute to the gender gaps.