A new international peer-reviewed study has concluded that over the last century, girls have always outperformed boys to get higher grades in school. The findings, published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, reveal that the recent focus on a “boy crisis” in scholastic achievement is not based in historical data. Female students obtain equal or higher school marks in a broad range of studies, including language, math and science. This also dispels the myth that female students only excel at the arts and social sciences. The gap in grades is simply greater in these subjects.
The findings hold true across nationalities and race according to the Susan and Daniel Voyer, authors of the study and psychologists at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. The study assessed primarily American classroom grades but looked at results from students in two dozen other nations as well. The data was compiled from 306 education studies from 1914 to 2011 – capturing the school grades of one million students divided equally by girls and boys.
Scandinavian countries bucked the trend with virtually no difference in grades regardless of gender or subject. Co-author Daniel Voyer believes the results debunk prevailing stereotypes that have informed education policy for decades and continue to influence the debate on education trends and changes. For the last 100 years, girls have not lagged behind boys in math and science and the weaker school performance of boys in recent years is not a new phenomenon. Voyer also suggests that the superior performance of female university students should not be surprising. Male students simply had less competition in past decades when tertiary education at the college or university level was less acceptable for women and many fields of employment were available solely to men.
It is not all bad news for the guys, according to the authors of the study. They believe the data reveals an underlying failure of education systems around the world that perpetuates the underachievement of boys and the greater frequency of labeling male students as behavioral problems. There remains a gender gap, in part, because of entrenched stereotypes about male students as well. My husband would be the first to admit he received more family and peer encouragement for his sporting accomplishments than his academic performance. He was, after all, “just being a typical boy,” or so he was told.
In contrast, societal pressures on girls to be polite, well-behaved and conscientious students may help them in the classroom setting but it can also limit their exploration and risk taking when it comes to learning different skills or exploring unique spheres of study. It is the reduction of these types of gender “norms,” as well as the refusal to segregate students on the basis of performance and ability that may have contributed to the Scandinavian results – an equal opportunity for all to succeed without preconceived stereotypes.