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Education Gender Gap: Are Boys and Girls on Equal Ground?

There’s no denying that gender gaps exist, especially when it comes to education. But what exactly does it mean for academic achievement and learning outcomes?

The education landscape is changing. From evolving teaching strategies to coursework rooted in augmented reality, many aspects of how we remember school are shifting. But is it possible that these shifts are leaving some students behind? And if so, who?

The school-based gender gap refers to the disparity in achievement between genders in an educational environment.1 And there’s no denying these gaps exist in many instances. As the classroom landscape, coursework, and policies continue to change, the gaps seem to become more apparent—and perhaps in ways you might not realize. Below, we’ve outlined some of the ways in which boys and girls are losing (or gaining) footing in school.

Education Gender Gap: Are Boys and Girls on Equal Ground?

  1. In nearly every U.S. school district, girls surpass boys in reading and writing.2

    According to Stanford University's systematic study of gender achievement gaps—based on state accountability test data of third through eighth grade students from 2008–2015—girls outperform boys by nearly half a grade level in third grade. By the end of eighth grade, girls are almost a full grade ahead. And although it is theorized that this disparity exists because boys are statistically more likely to have a learning disability or because they feel pressured to conform to masculine norms—which do not prioritize reading—the study does not determine exactly why girls excel in reading and writing, just that this gap is consistent across the board.

  2. Though gender achievement gaps have narrowed, learning stereotypes are still reinforced—particularly in high-income populations.2

    In 2015, math gaps were noticeably lower on average than in 2009. However, the gender stereotype of “boys are better at STEM” still exists and can greatly impact learning outcomes. According to Sean Reardon, a member of Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis steering committee, "It may be easier for parents to reinforce stereotypical patterns in affluent places because they have more money to do so." This hypothesis provides potential insight into why boys from affluent communities still outperform girls in math, citing the difference money can make when it comes to stereotype reinforcement.

  3. Girls are more successful at implementing self-regulated learning strategies.3

    Self-regulation is the ability to control oneself. This includes thoughts and behaviors, motivation, and overcoming distraction and procrastination. And the ability to self-regulate is vital to academic achievement. Students are set up for greater success when they demonstrate organizational skills, goal-setting and planning strategies, attentiveness, and impulse control—all aspects that are directly tied to high levels of self-regulating behaviors.

  4. Boys tend to struggle more with disciplinary issues.4

    Believe it or not, how boys behave in school—and how that behavior is handled—plays a significant role in future educational outcomes. According to a study conducted by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, boys are less likely to learn and more likely to be held back in school. The study also found that boys enter school with more behavioral problems than girls—and are punished more often for them. This disparity is believed to impact learning outcomes and contribute to the widening gender gap when it comes to academic achievement.

  5. Socioeconomic status can affect gender achievement gaps.2

    It was found that gender gaps in English and math vary with community wealth and racial diversity after a review of test scores from 10,000 U.S. school districts. According to Stanford’s education study, boys in affluent, highly educated, and predominantly white districts outperformed girls in math. Whereas girls in poorer, more racially diverse districts often outperformed boys in math. However—despite these striking differences in gender achievement for math—no correlation with local socioeconomic status or racial makeup was found in reading and writing. Unfortunately, Stanford’s research doesn’t provide evidence as to why these socioeconomic and racial conditions impact learning but is meant to encourage further research on the matter.

Learn About the Topics in Education That Matter Most at Walden University

If you’re considering enrolling in a graduate program for teachers or want to learn more about the social change topics affecting the education field, Walden can help. An accredited university, Walden offers online education degree and certificate programs that can help you gain the experience and knowledge you need to further your career. Walden offers an MS in Education (MSEd) program rooted in the latest teaching strategies, cutting-edge technologies, and best practices taught by industry experts. Choose from 14 specializations and explore online courses in curriculum design, instruction, and assessment.

Advance your teaching knowledge by earning your master’s degree in education at Walden. And because the program is offered on a convenient online platform, you can earn your degree from wherever you have internet access—no need to rearrange your schedule or commute to campus. Earn your MSEd degree to better impact the lives of your students while you continue to work full time.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a suite of education programs online, including an MS in Education degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree with a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,