It’s becoming increasingly clear that the popular framing of the relationship between gender and educational advantage in the West—that boys get special privileges while girls are discriminated against—is no longer particularly accurate or useful. The latest case in point: Working class male students in the UK face worse educational outcomes than their sisters, according to a new Oxford University study. Pam Sammons, the lead author, summarized her findings in Conversation UK:
We know that children from less affluent homes are much less likely to get good GCSE and A-level results, access the most selective universities and secure leading jobs. But we know less about the impact that other factors – such as their gender, ethnicity or where they live – have on a pupil’s academic outcome.
Our research, published by the Sutton Trust charity, found that some young people experience a “double disadvantage”. Being a boy and poor, especially being a boy of white UK background, much diminishes the likelihood of going on to advanced level studies. Growing up in a poor neighbourhood also has a negative impact on long-term outcomes up to age 18. […]
Our study shows that the adverse impact of family disadvantage was also particularly evident for boys. Disadvantaged boys were less likely to go on to advanced level studies than disadvantaged girls, with just 40% of them carrying on an academic route compared with 55% of their girl peers.
Researchers have observed similar patterns in the United States. MIT’s David Autor recently published a widely publicized study on outcomes for American boys and girls, which concluded (in the New York Times‘s words) that “any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters.”
This doesn’t mean that boys are “oppressed” as a class. Males really do retain certain systematic advantages—just look at the composition of the U.S. Congress, or the Forbes wealthiest people list. But it does show that constructing rigid hierarchies of privilege—in which being male is always an advantage, and never poses its own set of challenges—is probably not the best way to understand the challenges facing students in the Anglosphere.