Gender Essential Skills Gap – Over time, men are able to catch up with women in reading proficiency and make greater use of mathematics skills

  • Girls’ advantage over boys in reading performance peaks during adolescence, but then disappears by early adulthood. By contrast, boys’ advantage in mathematics performance increases steadily from age 9 to 27.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to pursue academic programmes and occupations that make greater use of mathematics skills.
  • Over time, men are able to catch up with women in reading proficiency because reading is a transversal skill that can also be mastered outside of formal education.

This issue of the Adult Skills in Focus series looks at gender differences in reading (literacy) and mathematics (numeracy) skills, and in particular how these differences evolve as people grow up.

The analysis use data on three different assessments, administered to children in fourth grade (around 10 year-olds), to 15-year old adolescents, and to young adults aged 26-27.The data shows that girls have a small advantage in literacy at age 10, which grows larger by age 15. However, at age 26 this advantage disappears, and young adults achieve on average the same scores in the literacy assessment.

The picture is very different in the case of numeracy skills. At age 10 the gaps are very small, with a tiny advantage for boys. The gap is larger at age 15 and grows even more by age 26, when young men achieve on average much higher scores.

A possible explanation for these results is that men specialise in occupations and fields of study that make higher use of numeracy skills; men are also able to close the gap in literacy skills because reading is a transversal skill that people need to master to be successful in a wider range of occupations.

Girls do better in school, on average, but pursue less financially rewarding careers

In the past, women often acquired less education than men, but this is no longer true in most OECD countries: women now generally outperform men in education, and are more likely to enrol in and complete tertiary education.
When it comes to tertiary education, however, the choice of field of study is often much more important than the degree earned, and women continue
to be under-represented in STEM fields and, as a consequence, in well-paid STEM occupations.
But how do these differences in occupational choices arise? Do they reflect different preferences or a lack of the skills required to succeed in those subjects and occupations? Results from standardised, large-scale assessments can begin to answer these questions. These assessments normally evaluate proficiency
in both reading (or literacy) and mathematics (or numeracy) skills. Since they are both standardised and blind-graded, they can provide more robust and comparable information on the actual proficiency of participants than other sources of data, like school marks.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ OECD iLibrary | Do gender gaps in reading and mathematics evolve between childhood and adulthood?


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