Friday, August 20, 2010

Boys just want to have fun?

RTE today carried the shock news that girls outperform boys in the Leaving Certificate. To be fair the article notes that this is not new and is observed internationally. What I am not aware of is evidence (and no, anecdotes - even from taxi-drivers- do not count) on why this is so.
There is no shortage of theories of course: the feminization of teaching, the feeling of displacement and general uselessness by males due to the evils of feminism etc etc. But this seems an important enough trend to be worth studying and, even, doing something about.


Nicola O'Connell said...

Not sure why anything needs to be done about it when the gender pay gap is so persistent and apparently isn't going to change for quite some time.

Kevin Denny said...

Nicola, so it sounds like you see this educational difference as performing a corrective action to whats happening in the labour market. But two wrongs don't make a right. Since, as I understand it, males and females generally have the same cognitive ability it does seem that boys are under-performing. Isn't that a bad thing, don't we want everyone to achieve their potential?

Mark McG said...

I'm sure we can rely on the same people who care about injustice in the labour market to make this issue a priority

Liam Delaney said...

As Kevin notes, we are in the land of hypotheses here rather than answers. Some hypotheses that merit discussion include:

- The returns to other activities are higher for boys and they enjoy other activities more. For example, boys get more social kudos for sporting success. I wrote a report on time use of school children when I was in ESRI. Boys certainly play a lot more sport than girls and a lot more television and video games in their final year. Again, this may have always been the case but the increasing range of electronic technologies may be affecting boys more than girls. A bit like why men more than women have been financially affected by the innovations in gambling technologies. The core noncogs are not changing but the technologies that people are interacting with are.

- 17 year old boys have higher discount rates than 17 year old girls. In the past this did not translate into higher performance because women were highly discouraged to do well in school compared to boys. Once the discrimination equalised then girl's more favourable noncognitive characteristics started to shine through. This is compounded by the fact that boys get higher returns to immediate employment than women. More so than a girl, a boy has the option of doing poorly in college and taking up an immediate job that will pay money but have a poor lifetime earnings profile.

- The feminisation of teaching one certainly shouldn't be ruled out but it is tough to think that this could be what is leading women to catch up and pass men out in maths.