WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The behavioral and academic gap between boys and girls has grown larger than divides between rich and poor, and even race, with experts saying the widening gender gap has created a “crisis” that is negatively affecting the U.S. economy.
New research from Third Way reveals that as early as kindergarten, girls are significantly better behaved, more attentive, and more independent than boys – a gap that only increases with age. The data suggests that researchers, policymakers and educators are trying to make sense of the “reversal from a male advantage to a female advantage” that has exacerbated boys’ long-term academic struggles and left male wages stagnated.
The portion of women earning a four-year college degree has increased more than 75 percent in the last 25 years, and median inflation-adjusted female earnings have jumped nearly 35 percent, Census data shows.
But in the same time period, American male earnings have not risen at all.
“We know we’ve got a crisis, and the crisis is with boys,” Elaine Kamarck, a resident scholar at Third Way and a former Clinton administration official, told The New York Times. “We’re not quite sure why it’s happening.”
By eighth grade, 48 percent of girls receive A’s and B’s and a “clear advantage” in school, while only less than one-third of boys (31 percent) maintain the same high-level grades. As education feeds children into the workforce, the social divide turns into an economic struggle: male wages have stagnated, and men are more likely than women to neither work nor maintain support for a family.
“Because our economy rewards educational attainment and punishes the lack of it, could women soon become the primary economic drivers of the U.S. economy?” asks the Third Way study introduction.
The researchers point to several leading factors linked to causes outside of the classroom, noting that girls in single-parent families achieve academic success as well as girls in two-parent households, but boys “fare particularly poorly” in comparison, Professor David H. Autor, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes for Third Way.
Claudia Buchmann of The Ohio State University and Thomas DiPrete of Columbia University write in their Third Way report, “The Secret Behind College Completion: Girls, Boys and the Power of Eighth Grade Grades,” that girls enter school leading boys, and their behavioral advantage is larger by the fifth grade, according to teacher assessments.
The researchers do note that boys do well in top schools, and respond positively when good grades bring them a higher status.
The researchers examined problems hindering upward mobility and lagging college graduation rates, and linked boys’ poorer eighth grade achievements to data showing “eighth grade grades are a better predictor of completing college than are standardized test scores.”
The academic gap appears to continue into college. In 2010, 57 percent of all college students were women, and women were more likely to finish their degree and enroll in graduate schools.
“Boys are getting the wrong message about what you need to do to be successful,” Buchmann tells The New York Times. “Traditional gender roles are misguiding boys. In today’s economy, being tough and being strong are not what leads to success.”
Previous research has shown that by 18 months, children from poor households are already several months behind in vocabulary and language-processing abilities. By the time these U.S. children arrive in school by age give, some are two years behind – and the gap between wealthy and poor students only widens over time.
But the Third Way research suggests that gender differences have outpaced economic gaps.
“The social and behavioral skills gap between boys and girls is considerably larger than the gap between children from poor families and middle class families or the gap between black and white children,” write the researchers.