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Are girls smarter than boys?

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Masters Dissertations from Oxbridge Essays

With all the furore over the ever improving A level and GCSE results, the questions raised about the purpose and efficacy of the new A* grade and the heated debate over the roles of teachers, students and examination boards in determining the level of results achieved, one surprising statistic seems to have been largely overlooked this year. Yet again, for the twentieth consecutive year, girls have outperformed boys in both major sets of exam results, achieving 8.3% of their A levels at A* grade (compared to 7.9% for boys).

As shown by the graph, the gender gap for the percentage of entries awarded at A* to C grade is even greater still, yawning at an amazing 8% difference. So the question must be; what can be causing this steady and undeniably clear trend? Is our schooling system biased towards methods of education more beneficial and effective to teaching girls than boys? Are boys, as some theorists have argued, simply less motivated and less mature than their female peers? Or are girls just smarter than boys?

If so, then surely we need to ask ourselves what on earth is happening in between school examinations and the graduation to professional jobs. Whilst women simply outstrip men in the examination tables, the only formal evidentiary comparison we have of male vs. female intellect, they occupy a shockingly small percentage of the top managerial, corporate, political and executive jobs in the UK.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that just one third of corporate managerial and senior official positions are occupied by women, whilst the percentage of women in the survey sample who were senior officials in national government or directors and chief executives of major organisations was officially classified as “too small” even to produce a “reliable estimate”.

Some theorists argue that whilst the gender gap in examination results would appear to reflect superior levels of female intelligence, this does not translate to the job market and the professional world because women and men tend to prioritise differently, with men putting career and business ahead of a family and women focusing on their home life and their children.

Yet it seems over-simplistic to suggest that girls are simply smarter than boys, especially when statistics show that the examination performance of girls in single-sex education is generally higher than the results of those in mixed schools, whereas boys at single-sex schools perform considerably lower than those experiencing co-education.

These figures are surely the strongest evidence for the theory that girls simply mature earlier than boys and show stronger academic motivation and consciousness of future implications at the time when examinations are taken.

If it is the female attitude rather than the female intellect that is boosting exam results then it certainly stands to reason that mixing with girls would improve boys’ grades as their concentration and attitude towards exams have a positive impact on their male peers. Similarly, it stands to reason that girls in single-sex schools might outperform their co-ed counterparts as they are free of the distraction and influence of the more relaxed and irresponsible male attitude.

In light of the evidence it seems sensible to conclude that girls aren’t really smarter than boys. It is their sense of responsibility and their work ethic that seems more likely to be responsible for their exam success. Yet this still doesn’t account for the shocking figures of the gender gap in top UK employment, not to mention the enormous gender pay gap that still exists between the sexes at the highest echelons of business, law and politics and many, many other areas of employment.

If it is girls’ determination, hard work and conscientiousness that is putting them ahead of boys at school, why on earth is our employment system failing to reward these qualities too? It is quite clear that not nearly enough is being done from the top levels down to rectify this blatant yawning inequality. And if it is true that women are failing to occupy these positions due to their prioritisation of home, family and children, then why on earth isn’t our society encouraging the combination of these values and ethics with the capacity to occupy important and high ranking positions?

So is the education system failing boys? Not so much, it would seem, as they may be failing themselves. And the message to parents seems to be clear – for goodness sake get your son into a mixed school with the highest girl: boy ratio you can muster! Then again, you may find yourself coping with a different kind of distraction before lo

  • Jordan Keswick

    Performing well at school has little to no relationship with performing in the real world or even at university for that matter. If girls are getting better results at A-Level and GCSE it means they’re jumping better through the hoops. This has nothing to do with ‘smartness’, it is about mindless revision and regurgitation. If anyone’s ‘smarter’ its the boys who have realised there is more to life than percentages and straight A*s and are busy having a life.

    When I got to University to study economics I spent the better part of my first year forgetting everything I had been taught to do at school so I could finally start actually learning how to work. I’m now working in a very good job (yes someone with two C’s at A-Level can get a very good job) and I didn’t get there by being a parrot and repeating everything my lecturers had told me, I went into my interviews with OPINIONS and the power of independent thought.

    Being accurate and meticulous and remembering reams of information is all very impressive – but you know what kind of job is really suited to those kind of people? Secretarial work.

  • Charissa

    Wow Jordan don’t sugar coat it, tell us what you really think. It sounds to me like you’re dangerously close to suggesting that all women should be sitting quietly behind desks letting the men get on with the important work of running the show. Except you seem to somehow be condemning women to stupidity and a total lack of independent thought or gumption merely because they are capable of passing exams with high marks, which seems to be missing a few steps of logic to me. Actually it takes gumption and personal backbone to work hard enough to pass those exams in the first place, and a great deal of intelligence and academic ability, not at all just learning parrot fasion. (Then again, I suppose you wouldn’t necessarily know what was required to get top marks in exams, would you?)

    Your post smacks of the insecurity of a man in a big job who knows at the back of his mind that there’s a woman sitting behind a desk in his office somewhere who could actually do it much better than he does…

  • Jonathan

    Hey Jordan, interesting analysis. Never thought about it that way. Charissa, what’s with the attitude ? Jordan never said women are not smart or capable, but from a young age they do seem to follow the rules more.

    As an accomplished electrical engineer I can tell you I finished with a sub-par high school diploma since I could never bring myself to memorize things.

  • Tom

    Great article!

    I really like the new posts. Keep it up.

  • Charissa

    Jonathan, you and Jordan are both implicitly suggesting that following the rules is somehow a bad thing or a handicap. Maybe women are just working harder – like you admit yourself you couldn’t ‘bring yourself’ to put in the hard work needed to get the grades, so why shouldn’t a woman who could be rewarded with better results?
    It’s crazy to suggest that doing well at school is somehow detrimental to your later career choices and achievements. The difference in high-importance posts held by women in the world of work isn’t because they follow the rules!

  • Carly

    Why are we still having these debates? I think trying to argue that either men OR women are smarter is a completely pointless approach. Gender is clearly not the sole or even the primary determinant of intelligence. There are obviously greater variations in intelligence within genders than between them. The sooner we can move away from a simplistic gender-oppositional model, the better for all concerned.

  • Jojo

    I can see why some parents would want to send their kids to a single-sex school but surely this is a bad idea in the long run as boys and girls are going to have to meet at some point and learn to get on with their work together. Surely the single-sex education system is just a hangover from a time when boys marched out of public school and Oxbridge and into an all male corridor of some city firm their dads worked at.

  • Eduardo Silva

    jordan i can’t believe you said that – you are essentially being a misogynist

  • DamnShitTaco

    All the research shows is that girls work harder at school. And? Tell us something we didn’t already know (and/or don’t care about). It has nothing to do with intelligence.

    Now get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich.

  • Ben

    The reason why girls are doing better at school than boys is that curriculums and teaching methods have been gender biased towards girls. The way boys and girls learn is also completely different and so single sex schools are best. Girls are better on average at languages including English than boys. Boys on average are better at complex subjects such as complex physics, maths, chemistry etc. Boys are on average better at exams and girls are on average better at coursework. Thus modern education systems dumb down complex subjects such as physics, maths chemistry etc and make coursework worth at least 50% of the final mark. Also many boys like using their hands and enjoy such things as laboratory work. Thus under OH&S legislation, remove this activity. Also the use of Analytic Phonics to teach boys English instead of Synthetic Phonics has harmed boys. If you look at the Bell Curve of intelligence for the genders, their average is the same but the distribution is different. Thus there are far more very intelligent men than women and far more very unintelligent men than women. If you have a dumbed down education system where only an average IQ is needed to get top marks, the number of women will exceed the number of men. So men, women are trying to put you down and you should join the growing marriage strike and deny them a happy family with children. (It will also save you a lot of money).

  • Chris

    I agree quite strongly with how Jordan worded his opinion, except maybe the last sentence or two.
    I recently finished my GCSEs, and am now doing Physics, Maths/Mechanics, Electronics and Music Technology AS-Levels. My girlfriend is also currently doing her GCSEs in a single-sex grammar school and so this gives me a vague insight of the attainments of students in her environment as well as my own.

    It’s become quite apparent to me that girls do inherently better at not only coursework-based subjects, but any subject that doesn’t involve a whole lot of physical experimentation – anything based primarily on emotion rather than logic. My girlfriend is particularly good at the arts (literacy, theatrics, dance), and from what I’ve heard, the majority choose these subjects as their preferred over such subjects as physics, chemistry (but not biology, funnily enough), mechanics and [further] mathematics.

    The majority of girls tend to produce understandable, readable, usually quite orderly notes, whereas boys will tend to jot something down quickly and forget about it, or not write notes at all.

    I also agree with the fact that the larger proportion of female teachers to male ones has a major effect on the way students learn. Naturally, boys have more respect for their male tutors in the way that the general idea is, “I have respect for my physics teacher because he’s got a PhD in particle physics” and “I have respect for my English teacher because she’s been through a lot and is a really nice person”.
    This definitely holds true to me. If my mechanics teacher didn’t have a particle physics PhD, I would hate him to the guts. Similarly, my male physics teacher was a brainbox at our age, fixing kitchen and house lighting and driving his car’s own windscreen wipers. Our female teacher however, I haven’t learned just about nothing from, and as the majority of our class is male, the latest of our test scores with her was unhumourous – unless you include those of the girls, of which, ironically, did incredibly well.

    Well, I think I’ve said enough.

  • Carrie

    The “man” and I use the term loosely, who makes the comment about “getting back in the kitchen” does so because he is threatened and lacks a logical argument. The comment in fact provides evidence that men are not as smart, they have to insult women because they can’t make a smart comeback. I respect the men more who can at least debate the issue of female vs. male intelligence. Although I think we should always keep the discussions logical and reasonable, I’m tempted to tell to the dimwhit “damn shit” to take out my garbage or go mow my lawn. :) Having to poke fun of traditional sex roles is childish, admittedly, but it would be nice if some men would mature to the point where they could have a logical discussion. And they say women are the less logical sex? I think some of the comments on here prove otherwise.

  • Michael

    Honestly I think men are dominant in the fact that they are physically in charge and oversee the household, but I’m not one to talk. I’m 13 and this past school year i took Honors Algebra 2 and me and my frind(MALE) had i think the 2 highest grades in the class out of 24 people up to 4 years older than us. Males are smarter, and the dumbest people are boys too. Girls are more creative and passionate though. It’s a very confusing topic, but, hey, Adam was made before Eve, right?

  • Michael

    And Carrie, I do think the men of the house should do the work like you said. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, dishes, laundry, clean the bathroom, earn the money, etc.

  • Michelle

    I have twin daughters who have just completed their final year examinations in Australia, each earning top marks in English, Physics, Chemistry,mathematics and biology. They are not identical twins. I am also a teacher. I do not teach kids to regurgitate mindless facts. I constantly stress independent thought and creative answers are the way to do well in exams.

    Boys and girls learn differently. I find that most boys prefer structure and discipline, but girls are able to think more creatively. When I structure group work, I ensure that at least one member of the group is of the opposite gender, as I feel that each gender has attributes that compliment each other.

    Girls are not mindless automatons who jump through hoops, any more than boys are opinionated know-it-alls who feel the need to be first at everything.

    I think that Jordan has a chip on his shoulder and a very misogynist attitude that is quite cave-man-like and out dated in this day and age. My daughters who are both beautiful and intelligent may quite possibly reject him due to his chest thumping ways.

    Darwin has a way of making these types extinct through natural selection.