Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Education's Great Divide: Girls Outperforming Boys

An educational gap, research shows girls have been outperforming boys for years.

Is it true that girls are performing better than boys? According to a recent study from University of New Brunswick in Canada, girls have been outperforming boys consistently through the years. It is a popular belief that boys perform better in subjects like Math and Science; however, a review of 308 studies involving more than 1.1 million children across the globe has challenged this stereotype. The study looked at data from 1914 to 2011 and the findings suggest that girls do better in school than boys in the classroom regardless of the material. Classroom performance is an indicator of learning in a larger context, which according to researchers requires effort and persistence over long periods of time, while standardized tests assess abilities and aptitudes at one specific point in time.

A century's worth of data shows that, in more than 30 countries, the largest gains for girls were in Language Arts courses and the smallest gains were in Math and Science courses; which hold true to the stereotype that boys score better in math and science than girls. But before forming a judgment on the belief that girls are better at Language Arts than boys, consider this... the study shows that claims of a “boy crisis,” with boys falling behind girls in school achievement, are inaccurate because girls’ grades have been consistently higher than boys’ over the years with no significant changes in recent years. In truth, females have been outperforming boys for a long time in the classroom and not just in America, but in the global community as well.

Why are girls doing better than boys in the classroom? The authors of the study offer many explanations, but social and cultural factors were most predominant. It seems parental and societal expectations of the sexes could play a large role in how these youth perform academically. If we expect boys to perform better in Math and Science, are we inadvertently encouraging them to do better in these subjects? Does this expectation alter the way we educate girls and boys in these subjects? As a society are we pushing more toys, televisions shows and games towards these stereotypes and unconsciously encouraging boys to gravitate more towards Science and Math?

On the flip side, as parents do we push our girls to do better in these subjects because we think they are harder for our girls? Is this push resulting in girls studying harder to make good classroom grades in Math and Science? Another variable may be that girls and boys learn differently. Previous studies have shown that girls study to understand the significance and importance of material, whereas boys look at the end product and their performance. And oftentimes with most subjects, but definitely in Math and Science, the end performance is measured by a final assessment consisting of a standardized or achievement test.

What we could do is teach mastery of a subject across the board to both sexes. I would argue that the depth of examining and understanding course content is a far better indicator of performance than an achievement or standardized test. Maybe as a society we can figure out how to teach both boys and girls to do well both in the classroom and in testing situations.

Article:Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis,” Daniel Voyer, PhD, and Susan D. Voyer, MASc, University of New Brunswick, Psychological Bulletin, online April 28, 2014.

Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis (PDF, 251KB)