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What Happens to Academic Gender Gaps When Students Grow Up?

Academic gender gaps in reading and math follow different paths as American students move from their school years into adulthood, according to new federal data.

By late adolescence, men and women show roughly the same literacy skills on the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, effectively closing earlier gaps favoring girls in reading documented by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But in numeracy skills, girls trail boys at every age group from 16 through 65, the data show:

piacc gender numeracy.JPGThat's starkly different from gender gaps in K-12 grades. A recent Stanford University study comparing gender gaps in the NAEP across nearly 10,000 districts nationwide found no average gender gap in math, but a gap of nearly three-quarters of a grade level favoring girls in reading. And the Program for International Student Assessment suggests the United States has gender gaps among 15-year-olds in both subjects that are smaller than the international average.

The Stanford study found gaps favoring boys were more common in wealthier districts and communities where there are big gaps in income between men and women generally. In low-income communities, girls tended to outperform boys in both reading and math.

The PIACC data showed men ages 16-65 outperformed women in math skills regardless of their education level. Men with less than a high school diploma outperformed women of the same education level by 15 points, while men with a postsecondary degree outperformed women by 19 points.

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