Girls are academically outperforming boys in many countries around the world -- even in places where women face political, economic or social inequalities.
A new report from Dr. Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Glasgow in Scotland and David C. Geary of the University of Missouri found that in 2009, high school girls performed significantly better on an international standardized test in 52 out of 74 studied countries.
The researchers set out to explore the connection between academic achievement and a country’s levels of gender inequality, speculating that girls might do worse on the Programme for International Student Assessment in countries where they are typically treated unfairly. On the contrary, researchers found that girls have been consistently outperforming boys for the last decade, regardless of countries’ treatment of women.
"In a lot of these countries women are not allowed to do a lot of things, but what's interesting is even in these countries girls are doing better in school," Geary told The Huffington Post over the phone. The study notes the results extend to strict Muslim countries where there tends to be a "lack of opportunities for girls and women."
PISA is a test that has been distributed around the world since 2000 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Researchers found that on the 2009 test, girls performed better than boys in reading, math and science in 70 percent of studied countries.
Geary noted that the top male performers tended do better in math on the exam than the top female test-takers, which feeds into a focus on the gender gap in STEM-related jobs. But at the same time, he said, there has been a lack of focus on the fact that girls seem to be performing better on the whole.
"All debate and fretting over STEM stuff, where boys go into STEM fields and do better at math, that is all at the upper end of achievement," said Geary. "But there’s a whole lot of other kids in the world that are never going to go into STEM. When you look at all of those other 95 percent of the world’s kids, we see boys falling behind girls pretty much everywhere."
Geary said he worried about the study's implications for an increasingly complex labor market. Especially in non-developed countries, he said, there's going to be "a lot of boys who are going to become young adults with few employable skills."
"If you have countries with a large percentage of these types of men, crime rates go up," he said, including violent crime.
Geary said he hopes the findings bring more attention to the issue of boys falling behind in school.
"The boys' problems are overlooked," said Geary. "It's an important problem and a worldwide problem, and potentially has some serious implications ... it just hasn’t been addressed and is not even on people’s radar to even figure out why this is the case."