Do young children favour boys over girls?

A new study published in American Psychologist looks at evidence of bias against women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability.

Andrei Cimpian conducted a series of three experiments to test for evidence of gender bias and its developmental roots. In the two initial experiments, more than 1,150 participants (mean age 35 years) were asked to refer individuals for a job. The results showed that participants were less likely to refer a woman when the job description mentioned intellectual ability (43.5% female referrals) than when it did not (50.8%).

In the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether young children favour boys over girls for intellectually challenging activities. Children ages five to seven (n= 192) were recruited from a small mid-western city in the US, and taught how to play a team game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children, the other half were not. Children were then asked to select three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know.

Initially, the children selected teammates of the same gender as themselves (so, girls chose the other girls, and boys chose the other boys), but by the third selection round they became less likely to select girls as teammates for the “smart” game (37.6% girls selected) than for the control game (53.4%). Girls were less likely to select other girls as teammates across selection rounds, particularly for the “smart” game.

Source: Evidence of bias against girls and women in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability (December 2018), American Psychologist 73(9)

Children who enjoy reading over three years ahead in the classroom

Research published by the National Literacy Trust highlights the link between enjoyment of reading and achievement, with children who enjoy reading more likely to do better at reading – over three years ahead in the classroom – of their peers who don’t enjoy it.

The findings are based on data from 42,406 children aged 8 to 18 who participated in a National Literacy Trust survey at the end of 2016. At age 10, children who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years higher than their peers who don’t enjoy reading, rising to 2.1 years for 12-year-olds. At age 14, children who enjoy reading have an average reading age of 15.3 years, while those who don’t enjoy reading have an average reading age of just 12 years, a difference of 3.3 years.

The survey also indicates that three-quarters (78%) of UK primary school children enjoy reading, with girls more likely to enjoy reading than boys. Overall, 64.9% of girls enjoying reading either very much or quite a lot compared with 52.4% of boys, and this gap increases with age. At ages 8 to 11, 82.8% of girls and 72.4% of boys said they enjoyed reading. By ages 14 to 16, this figure has dropped to 53.3% of girls and 35.7% of boys reporting that they enjoy reading.

Source: Celebrating reading for enjoyment: findings from our annual literacy survey 2016 (June 2017), National Literacy Trust

Gender stereotypes about intelligence begin early

Girls as young as six years old associate high-level academic ability with men more than women, according to a report published in the journal Science. The study also found that although girls aged five to seven were more likely than boys to associate their own gender with good grades, they did not link these achievements to innate abilities of “brilliance”.

Lin Bian and colleagues carried out a number of tests with children, half of whom were girls, to test the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s ideas of intellectual ability. In the first test, boys and girls aged five, six, and seven were read a story about a highly intelligent person and then asked to guess the person’s gender. Next, they were shown pictures of pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and asked to pick which they thought were highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women.

The results revealed that at age five, girls are just as likely as boys to associate intelligence with their own gender. However, by ages six and seven, girls were less likely than boys to make this association, with girls identifying their own gender as “really, really smart” 48% of the time compared to 65% of the time for boys.

Source: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests (January 2017), Science Vol. 335 (6323) pp.389-391

Does background influence pupils’ subject choice?

A Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper examined the roles of social class, parental education, income, gender  and ethnicity on pupils’ subject choice at GCSE.

Morag Henderson and colleagues examined information from more than 11,700 young people taking part in Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE)), who were born in 1989-90 and attended state schools in England. They found that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds were less likely than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds to choose GCSE subjects that would enable them to go on to college – regardless of whether or not they were academically able.

Pupils whose parents only had GCSE-level education were also less likely than those with more-educated parents to study three or more “facilitating” subjects from the Russell Group’s Informed Choices guide. They were also less likely to take three or more academically “selective”’ subjects, such as German and maths and statistics, and more likely to choose applied GCSEs, such as leisure and tourism or applied manufacturing and engineering. As the highest level of parental education decreases, the odds of the students studying applied GCSEs increases.

For pupils from lower-income backgrounds, the findings were similar. Poorer pupils were less likely to choose selective and facilitating subjects and more likely to take applied GCSEs than their wealthier peers. Additionally, girls were more likely than boys to study applied GCSEs, as were those with special education needs.

Source:  Social class, gender and ethnic differences in subjects taken at age 14 (2016), Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working paper 2016/6

Have gender gaps in maths closed?

A study, published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, explored the early development of gender gaps in mathematics achievement, including when gaps first appear, where in the distribution they develop, and whether these gaps have changed over the years.

Cimpian and colleagues compared two cohorts in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: the kindergarten (Year 1) classes of 1998-1999 (N = 21,399) and 2010-2011 (N = 18,170). They observed that the gender gap at the top of the distribution (among the highest achievers in maths) begins in early elementary school (Year 2) and continues to get worse, and has not improved over the last decade. In both the 1998-1999 and 2010-2011 cohorts, girls represented less than one-third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. By Grade 3 (Year 4) for the 1998-1999 cohort and Grade 2 (Year 3) for the 2010-2011 cohort, girls made up only one-fifth of those above the 99th percentile.

In addition to maths achievement, students’ learning behaviours and teacher expectations were examined, as these could be two potential contributors to the gender gaps. When boys and girls behaved and performed similarly, teachers in both cohorts underrated the maths skills of girls as early as Grade 1 (Year 2). In other words, in mathematics, for teachers to rate girls equally with boys, girls must work harder and behave better than the boys.

Source: Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts (2016), AERA Open

Single-sex schools make little difference in Korea


Students in Korea who attended single-sex, as opposed to co-educational, secondary schools showed little difference in their achievement scores.

The Office of Education in Korea allocates placements in general high school randomly. In the capital, Seoul, there is a mix of co-educational and single-sex schools. Similarly, teachers are not allowed to choose which school they work at. If they live in a particular school district (there are 10 in Seoul) they will be allocated to one of the schools in that district.

Using this information, a paper in the Economics of Education Review examines the impact of single-sex schools on student achievement. Over seven years, the author found that any positive effects of single-sex schooling were small. The effect was relatively greater for students in the middle of the distribution of test scores. For students at the very top and very bottom, the impact was trivial. There were also no differences in the students’ choices for further study or in their test-taking behaviour.

Source: Mean and distributional impact of single-sex high schools on students’ cognitive achievement, major choice, and test-taking behavior: Evidence from a random assignment policy in Seoul, Korea, Economics of Education Review (2016).