Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Gender Differences in School Achievement across Cultures: An Analysis of Results from PISA 2000-2012

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Gender Differences in School Achievement across Cultures: An Analysis of Results from PISA 2000-2012

Article excerpt

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Gender differences in cognitive ability or achievement are among the most thoroughly investigated topics in educational science and psychometrics. In Western societies, total score differences on complex intelligence tests such as the Wechsler tests rarely exceed 0.2 to 0.25 standard deviations (3 to 4 IQ points), more often favoring males than females in adults (but see Keith et al., 2008). Some authors attribute small male advantages to the general ability factor g, which they relate to brain size and developmental timing (e.g., Irwing, 2012; Lynn, 1999). Male advantages on specific ability factors have been offered as an alternative explanation (Colom et al., 2002). Sex differences on specific tests can be substantially larger (e.g., Keith et al., 2011). Robust male advantages are most frequently reported on tests of spatial ability (Peters et al., 2006; Silverman et al., 2000), general information (Lynn, Irwing & Cammock, 2001; Lynn, WilbergNeidhardt & Margraf-Stiksrud, 2005), and mechanical comprehension (FloresMendoza et al., 2013; Lemos et al., 2013). Females surpass males on tests of processing speed (Camarata & Woodcock, 2006; Roivainen, 2011), and on tests of episodic memory (Herlitz, Nilsson & Bäckman, 1997; Lewin, Wolgers & Herlitz, 2001) and location memory (McBurney et al., 1997; Silverman & Eals, 1992), which are not usually included in IQ test batteries.

Much of this work is concerned with the latent factor structure of mental abilities (e.g., Johnson & Bouchard, 2007; Keith et al., 2008), and specifically with the question of whether gender differences can be explained as differences in the latent general ability factor g (reviewed in Nyborg, 2003). Lynn's developmental theory, for example, proposes that sex differences in g are minimal up to the age of about 15 years, but males eventually overtake females because their mental as well as physical development continues when females have reached physical and mental maturity already (Giedd et al., 2006). In adulthood, males are claimed to outscore females on g by up to 5 IQ points (Lynn, 1999). The theory is supported by evidence of an emerging disparity in g favoring males during adolescence, but sex differences in g generally are very small (e.g., Lemos et al., 2013; Meisenberg, 2009, but see Keith et al., 2008).

Information on the cross-cultural generality of cognitive sex differences is limited. In the case of spatial abilities, some but not all sex differences in Hadza foragers of East Africa were similar to those observed in Western college students (Cashdan et al., 2012).

On measures of scholastic achievement, girls typically outperform boys. They achieve better grades, and this is to some extent reflected in higher scores on written assessments. The female advantage is not attributed to greater ability, but to better self-control or self-discipline (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Duckworth et al., 2015). The SAT in the United States is a major exception, with males outperforming females both on the verbal and math sections (Jackson & Rushton, 2006). Also in many university programs, males perform better than females (e.g., Mellanby, Zimdars & Cortina-Borja, 2013).

More important than average achievement levels are differences in the profile of strengths and weaknesses, and the resulting career outcomes. The main concern is the underrepresentation of women in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Ceci & Williams, 2011), which at the school level is evidenced by relatively low female performance in mathematics (Brunner, Kraus & Kunter, 2008; but see Hyde et al., 2008; Lindberg et al., 2010). The reasons for the relative weakness of females in fields related to mathematics and technology despite general female superiority in school are a matter of debate. A frequent assumption is that women are discouraged from achievement in mathematics-intensive fields by discrimination or cultural norms, but the evidence is mixed. …

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