Last Updated: Monday, December 21, 2020

Are boys and girls equally prepared for life (2014)

What is this?

A report which focuses on the gender performance gap in mathematics – boys tend to perform better than girls. It also discusses the gender gap in terms of learners' drive, motivation and self-belief in relation to their mathematics ability.

Who is this for?

Teachers, practitioners and others who are involved in planning or supporting mathematics learning for children and young people, and those working to address gender gaps in education.

​About this research

How was this carried out?

The report draws on evidence from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 survey. PISA surveys are administered to a sample of 15 year-olds in countries and economies across the world every three years. Pupils are tested on mathematics, science and reading, with a particular focus on one subject every year.

What are the strengths of this approach?

PISA data can reveal common patterns among high performing school systems. It can also be used to provide international benchmarking of student performance in key subjects and indicators of equity-related performance.

What is the context for this report?

This report supports the wide body of existing research which highlights that, internationally, boys outperform girls in mathematics and that the gender gap is even wider among the highest-achieving students. It also supports the evidence which suggests that boys are more likely to choose to study mathematics post-16 and  choose careers in mathematics. As the research covers a range of countries with different policy, educational and societal contexts, the findings may need to be contextualised for application in Scotland.

Reflective questions

The following questions may provide a stimulus for discussion:

  • In your setting, are you aware of any gender gaps in mathematics participation and/or in confidence levels?
  • What can you do to increase the number of girls choosing to study mathematics post-16 in your setting?
  • How can you work with partners to engage girls in mathematics?

About the author(s)

This research report was produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Related research/reading

Mujtaba, T. and Reiss, M.J. (2012). What sort of girl wants to study physics after the age of 16? Findings from a large-scale UK survey. London: Institute of Education, University of London.

OECD. (2015). About PISA.


This research was not commissioned by Education Scotland and the findings, recommendations and conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of Education Scotland.

Full reference

OECD. (2014). Are boys and girls equally prepared for life? Paris: OECD. 

Link(s) to full research article

PDF file: Are boys and girls equally prepared for life? (2014) (1.88 MB)