The gender reading gap and love of learning

Two interesting education snippets.

First, Brookings has released a new report that looks at the gender gap in reading:

Girls outscore boys on practically every reading test given to a large population. And they have for a long time. A 1942 Iowa study found girls performing better than boys on tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and basic language skills. Girls have outscored boys on every reading test ever given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the first long term trend test was administered in 1971—at ages nine, 13, and 17. The gap is not confined to the U.S. Reading tests administered as part of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveal that the gender gap is a worldwide phenomenon. In more than sixty countries participating in the two assessments, girls are better readers than boys.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that Finland, celebrated for its extraordinary performance on PISA for over a decade, can take pride in its high standing on the PISA reading test solely because of the performance of that nation’s young women. With its 62 point gap, Finland has the largest gender gap of any PISA participant, with girls scoring 556 and boys scoring 494 points (the OECD average is 496, with a standard deviation of 94). If Finland were only a nation of young men, its PISA ranking would be mediocre.

And where does love of learning come from? From a new twin study:

Little is known about why people differ in their levels of academic motivation. This study explored the etiology of individual differences in enjoyment and self-perceived ability for several school subjects in nearly 13,000 twins aged 9–16 from 6 countries. The results showed a striking consistency across ages, school subjects, and cultures. Contrary to common belief, enjoyment of learning and children’s perceptions of their competence were no less heritable than cognitive ability. Genetic factors explained approximately 40% of the variance and all of the observed twins’ similarity in academic motivation. Shared environmental factors, such as home or classroom, did not contribute to the twin’s similarity in academic motivation. Environmental influences stemmed entirely from individual specific experiences.

2 comments

  1. As I said when I saw that study, I wished they saw how much residual variance there was to the “love of learning” once IQ was controlled, and if so, what the genetic overlap between the two was. The study has a lot of strengths (multi-national sample), but that is a key weakness.

  2. I suspect love of learning, ordinarily understood, correlates less strongly with educational achievement in boys and men. For example, my bet would be that autodidacts are disproportionately male. Girls and boys are motivated differently. Girls seem much more motivated by pleasing others–parents and teachers. Girls often exhibit a love of learning right up until they feel the societal pressure is off, and they promptly stop. Boys, on the other hand, are more motivated by competition with peers, the desire to achieve mastery or excellence in a specific activity, and just following their curiosity (the autodidact loathes a curriculum). I would say that modern schooling is much better at working girls’ motivations to pry out academic achievement and a “love of learning” than boys’.

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