We are still a long way from gender equality in the United States. Women currently make less money than men, even when working the same job. And when it comes to getting the top jobs, women are less likely to make the climb.
But there's one area where women have not only caught up with men, they've pulled ahead: education.
Women and girls have gotten so far ahead that many researchers are now worried that boys have been left behind.
The growing gender gap in education is the subject of a new book from the Russell Sage Foundation, called The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools.
The book's coauthors did a write-up on it for the Council on Contemporary Families.
In it, they counter a popular belief that the gender achievement gap could be due to a biological difference between boys' and girls' brains:
Researchers agree that it is not because girls are smarter. In fact, while boys score slightly higher in math tests and girls score slightly higher in reading tests, overall the cognitive abilities of boys and girls are very similar. The difference in grades lies in effort and engagement. On average, girls are more likely than boys to report that they like school and that good grades are very important to them. Girls also spend more time studying than boys.
The reason for this, according to the coauthors, Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchman, is that boys face different expectations in the world.
Trying hard at school just isn't manly:
Our research shows that boys' underperformance in school has more to do with society's norms about masculinity than with anatomy, hormones or brain structure. In fact, boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these cultural activities are often denigrated as un-masculine by pre-adolescent and adolescent boys.
So, what can be done about it? DiPrete and Buchman say that boys need to be made more aware that their achievement in school determines their success in life. And they say schools should do more to create a culture that rewards academic achievement:
We need schools that set high expectations, treat each student as an individual (as opposed to a gender stereotype), and motivate all students to invest in their education so they can reap the big returns to a college degree that exist in today's labor market.
The real benefit, according to DiPrete and Buchman, is that these changes will help both boys as well as girls.