After decades of concern that girls were not granted the same opportunities as their male classmates, the attention in the developed world has recently shifted to the relatively poor performance of boys in school.
Studies of students in the United States find that girls often receive higher marks from their teachers and have now reached parity and sometimes exceed boys on standardised exams, including those required for entry into higher education. Research also indicates that girls are more likely to graduate from secondary school and to take more rigorous courses while in school than boys.
The growing female advantage in tertiary education may be partially
linked to differences between males and females in their non-cognitive
abilities. Studies have found that girls are advantaged in both
non-academic areas such as parental, peer and teacher expectations and
non-cognitive skills such as organisation, self-discipline,
attentiveness, dependability and seeking help from others.
Other research indicates that the disparity between males and females in
college enrolment and completion can be primarily attributed to women's
higher high school grades, high-school graduation rates and likelihood
of applying to college.
The precise sources of the gender gaps will likely vary by the unique
context in each country. The consequences of the gender imbalance in
higher education are also certain to vary across countries and are
difficult to predict at the moment.
In the US, several higher education officials have expressed concern over the growing gender imbalance because they fear that it will reduce the ability of their institutions to attract the highest-performing male and female secondary school graduates.
Some officials have also reported
that they employ strategies to increase the male share of applicants
and that they weigh male applicants differently from female applicants
in the admissions process. These reports have sparked debate in the media over the possibility that colleges are lowering their standards for boys and practising ‘affirmative action’.
In addition to the concern expressed by higher education officials, some
research demonstrates that the gender composition of students' schools
and classrooms can influence their achievement and attainment and that
these effects may differ for males and females. This evidence of
gendered peer effects may further influence gender differences in
achievements and labour market opportunities.
The increasing dominance of females in higher education in the
industrialised world is a trend that calls for continued monitoring and
research. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that in these
same nations, raw earnings disparities still persist.
Female advantages in educational attainment are only partially
offsetting the advantages that males maintain in other areas. For
example, men still choose college majors and gain employment in the
occupations and industries with the highest wages.
In addition, in many countries in the developing world, girls continue
to experience tremendous barriers to schooling, leading to a very
limited presence of females in higher education and the high-wage labour
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