Gender Differences in Reading Comprehension (Complete Guide)
Gender Differences in Reading Comprehension

Gender Differences in Reading Comprehension (Complete Guide)

Gender Differences in Reading Comprehension

The difference in reading comprehension between males and females has been studied for a long time. Generally, according to international reading studies like PIRLS and PISA, females are better readers than males. 

Several hypotheses try to explain why there is a gender difference in reading comprehension, evident amongst the 10-year-olds measured in PIRLS and even found to be more apparent in the group of 15-year-olds participating in PISA.

This post will shed some interesting light on gender differences in reading comprehension. Some points we will discuss include does gender affect reading comprehension, gender differences in reading comprehension achievement, and more.

Let’s begin!

Does gender affect reading comprehension?

This is an interesting question that has garnered a lot of debate among researchers and educators. However, several studies seem to favor the female gender regarding reading comprehension. 

Separate Studies by Shahmohammad (2011), Lietz, Petra (2006) and the PISA study carried out in 2006 revealed that girls outperformed boys in reading achievement.

An experimental study in 2019/2020 published in the Journal of English Language and Literature Teaching also shows girls outperforming boys in reading comprehension. 

However, other studies reveal that girls only do better than boys if they read texts that sound feminine. In comparison, boys will have greater comprehension achievement if they read texts that sound masculine. 

They will also do better than females in passages with science-oriented topics.

So, back to the question, does gender affect reading comprehension?

There is no simple answer to this question because not all studies show gender’s major effect on comprehension. For instance, separate studies carried out by Vlachos and Papadimitriou (2015), Lietz, Petra (2006), Lietz, Salehi et al., (2014), and Yazdanpanah (2007) reveal that the overall performance of males and females on the reading comprehension test was not significantly different. 

Furthermore, when the reading skills of 16-24-year olds are tested, the gender differences in reading comprehension are negligible or seem to have disappeared altogether. 

These studies suggest that it is essential that English teachers and textbook writers not select reading texts that favor only female or male students. Instead, they should select neutral texts at the elementary stages.

Hence, more studies are needed to prove whether or not gender affects reading comprehension.

Gender differences in reading comprehension achievement

The gender gap in reading comprehension is a phenomenon that has been studied for decades. A study done in 1942 concluded that boys in both elementary and high school outperformed girls in reading comprehension.

However, recent results reveal that girls perform better at reading comprehension than boys. 

What could have been the reason for the shift in achievement? 

According to Claudia Bauchmann, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University, the main reason for the shift in achievement is that years ago, a boy not doing well in school had no serious implications for his future. He could still get a well-paying blue-collar job despite his poor performance in academic achievement.

However, over time those jobs have diminished. If the male gender does poorly in school, it significantly affects their future, so their poor academic performance is now more exposed as a huge challenge that both educators and parents have to fix. 

Why is there a gender difference in reading comprehension?

A difference in IQ was rejected as a possible reason since girls were not more intelligent than boys. The idea that the difference may have something to do with a particular teaching method was not accepted since various methods are used to teach reading.

Some studies claim that girls are subject to different demands and outlooks than boys and that this could explain why girls seem better at reading. However, if this idea was absolute, it cannot thoroughly explain the differences or why this difference seems to disappear when the pupils become much older, 16 years and above.

Some reasons postulated for the differences in reading comprehension achievement between boys and girls include:

  • Girls have better verbal skills than boys.
  • Negative stereotyping by parents, especially dads, has shown time and time again to hurt the self-confidence of boys.
  • Boys may struggle with language arts because they are more likely to be dyslexic or have other language-related learning disabilities.
  • The types of books that girls read differ from the books boys read.
  • Girls spend more time on homework and less time playing video games, which contributes to their higher reading scores.
  • Girls take school more seriously than boys and try harder in schoolwork and reading comprehension tests.

Although quite a lot of study is being done concerning the point above, the lack of comprehension by boys could signify that we need a better teaching approach for bettering reading and comprehension skills in boys and girls.

Are girls better at reading than boys?

In a recent study published in American Psychologist, researchers found that girls scored higher on literacy tests than boys. The team reviewed data on 3.9 million literacy test scores from fourth, eighth, and twelfth-grade students. The results were shocking. 

Study lead author David Reilly says, “It appears that the gender gap for writing tasks has been greatly underestimated. Despite our best efforts with changes in teaching methods, this gap does not appear to be reducing over time.”

This begs the question of why.

Well, researchers found a few different factors explaining the study’s results. 

In general, boys are more likely to have behavioral problems and develop learning disabilities. This is one cause of why there is a gap in reading and writing abilities between girls and boys. 

Also, the idea that society pressures males to conform to more masculine ideals, like science and math, was another circumstance in their results.

Some studies suggest that girls may use both hemispheres of their brains, whereas boys use just one. However, the researchers clarified that their research does not mean that boys learn differently from girls. 

They only hope that their study will contribute to helping educators plan a better teaching approach to learning vital skills such as reading and writing.

Why are boys lagging behind in reading comprehension?

In western countries, including the United States and the UK, surveys reveal that girls, on average, perform almost equally to boys in math, but concerning reading, girls outperform boys. And this seems to be the case in nearly every country.

This, too, deserves the question of why.

A few studies have been done to explain why boys lag. Among them, a study done by Keith Topping, a professor of educational and social research at Scotland’s University of Dundee, into children’s reading habits in the United Kingdom found that boys gave less time to processing words than girls. 

The study shows that boys are more inclined to skip passages or entire sections of reading material and often choose books below their reading levels. 

From various studies, one may deduce that gender may affect reading comprehension at early stages (boys and girls between the ages of 10 -15) but not necessarily on genetics or because girls are more intelligent, but more on boys’ attitudes toward reading at their early ages.

The attitude toward reading by both genders is different, as studies show that girls tend to read for pleasure compared to boys, who may consider activities like reading boring.

In addition, some studies suggest that as boys get older, they become more active than girls moving around more with less time dedicated to reading. 

Another study by (Paton, 2012) suggests that the lack of male role models at school because of a shortage of male teachers and at home because of the anti-book culture among many fathers may also influence boys’ reading habits.

Other studies also reveal stereotyping and differences in brain development in boys and girls as another possible reason.

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  • Dyna Chikakuda

    Nice article