The Gender Gap in Reading Skills for Adolescents Can Predict the Gender Gap in College Enrollments

In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Essex in England found boys’ poor reading skills in adolescence, combined with the social attitudes about women attending college, help explain why fewer men than women enroll in higher education.

Researchers analyzed three international databases: post-secondary education enrollment data between 2011-2017 from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; national reading scores for 15- and 16-year-olds from the Program for International Student Assessment; and social attitudes toward women pursuing university education from the World Values Survey. They found that the combination of both the national reading proficiency levels of 15-year-old boys and girls and the social attitudes toward girls attending university can predict the enrollment in tertiary education 5 years later.

“The practical implication is that equity in college enrollment is well out of reach at this time,” said co-author David Geary, a Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri. “There is no good reason to expect that national reading levels for either gender will be sufficiently raised in the coming decade to change enrollment patterns. The way to counter that is to improve reading skills, but that improvement will have to start early in life. The reading gap between boys and girls is there from the very beginning of schooling, even in preschool.”

The study, “Gender Differences in the Pathways to Higher Education,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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