Boys fare worse in school when there aren’t enough girls, study finds

UTRECHT, Netherlands — Oh boy! Male students are more likely to excel academically — when they’re outnumbered on campus by girls, a new study finds.

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands looked at the reading test scores of more than 200,000 15-year-olds worldwide, finding that boys performed best when their school’s student body was comprised of at least 60 percent females.

Chalkboard in school classroom
A new study finds that boys perform better in school when the student body is comprised of a greater number of girls.

Previous research has found that boys tend to be highly influenced by their learning environment, while female students often have a number of traits, including high levels of motivation and concentration, that are conducive to academic success, the researchers argue.

Although only a single subject was examined, the researchers believe that their findings have implications for many subjects, and reveal the need for gender equality in school settings.

“Boys’ poorer reading performance really is a widespread, but unfortunately also understudied, problem,” says Dr. Margriet van Hek, the study’s lead author in a news release. “Our study shows that the issue is reinforced when boys attend schools with a predominantly male student population.”

However, “schools can help improve this situation by ensuring a balanced gender distribution in their student population,” she emphasizes.

Ultimately, single-sex and vocational institutions, both of which often have enrollment that is skewed toward one gender, may diminish a young male’s chances of excelling, the researchers warn.

While further research must more deeply explore related issues, such as this phenomenon’s presence in other subject areas, and whether schoolwide demographic discrepancies manifest similarly in a given classroom, there is certainly a lot to ponder.

The study’s findings were published online last week in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement.