STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Why fathers matter, in one handy chart

taken from the book "The Rise of Women," by Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchman

I've been spending a lot of time recently trying to figure out why girls perform better than boys on almost every measure of academic achievement. 

Looking at different kinds of achievement gaps is kind of our thing here at State of Opportunity. Racial gaps. Income gaps. Opportunity gaps

The gender gap in school achievement isn't as big as either the racial or the economic gaps. But the gender gap is the most puzzling for me. I mean, achievement gaps based on income or race are disheartening, but at least I can understand why they exist (racism, disproportionate allocation of educational resources, societal inertia ... ). There's no easy explanation for why girls  of all races and all economic backgrounds get better grades, do better on tests, graduate at higher rates and get more advanced degrees than boys.

One easy explanation some people like to believe is that girls are just smarter than boys. But, as we've written before, that explanation doesn't really hold up. 

The chart above offers another explanation, though, admittedly, it's not all that easy to understand. The chart comes from a new book I've been reading, called The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools. I mentioned the book in my last post about the gender gap, but I think this chart is worth highlighting. You might need to click on the image to see a decent version.  

Basically, the chart breaks down how likely a boy or girl is to graduate college based on when they were born, and how much education their parent received. There's also a column to show how the numbers change if the child's father was present at the age of 16. 

So, you can see that boys today are at a disadvantage in almost every type of family.

Almost every type. The chart shows that boys and girls have an equal shot at college if both of their parents have been to college.  If a father has some college, and the mother doesn't, boys are actually more likely to graduate college than girls. 

So, why is this important? 

For me, it shows that the reason boys are falling behind in school may not have anything to do with the boys. It has to do with the fathers. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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