A Sociological Perspective on Gender and Educational Achievement (Part 1)

A Sociological Perspective on Gender and Educational Achievement (Part 1)

Education is an interesting yet complex area that can be seen through different social lenses.

Today, I’ll expose you to a sociological perspective on how education encountered a drastic change following some measures implemented in the society.

What Was the Trend Long Ago?

What Was the Trend Long Ago?

There’s no accurate record, but if you take the work of Gerda Lerner, an Austrian-American historian, one can say gender inequality was already entrenched in the society during the 2nd century BC. Or, as I always say, it was already imprinted on humanity since the dawn of human civilization.

But, along with gender inequality came a huge gap in children’s education.

If you go back to sixty years ago, you will find half of the women’s population with no formal schooling. Back then, history counted most uneducated women than men.

This education gap stood between boys and girls because of the expected social roles they have to carry out in the society. Once grown up, boys would take the position of breadwinners, going out to work and earn butter and bread for their respective families while girls were expected to become nest builders, responsible for the caring of their spouse and children.

Education had no place in the lives of girls because their main focus was on marriage.

This also explains why teachers at that time used to expect less from girls and more from boys.

Did the Trend Change Today?

Did the Trend Change Today?

One look at today’s educational statistics and I’d say people of long ago would have definitely changed their mind about not sending girls to schools.

From the late 20th century till now, the global picture highlights the excellent educational performance of girls over boys.

But, What Can Explain This Gender Reversal?

But, What Can Explain This Gender Reversal?

Girls’ striking educational attainment can be explained with the following reasons:

  • Free and Compulsory Education:

    Back in the Classical Era, where education was considered to be more an expensive choice for parents with more than a few kids, compared to girls, boys were often favored.

    The same cannot be said for the modern age, where access to education is now a right for every child born.

    In fact, it’s surprising to say that even a third-world country like India has joined the league of nations that impart an education free of cost and compulsory to children.

    And, this free education act gave birth to a new positive norm that initiated girls’ march to educational institutions.

  • The Impact of Feminism:

    Feminism’s fight for equal rights and opportunities for women is an ongoing struggle that may have emerged in the early nineteenth century.

    The battle to overcome patriarchal obstacles also consisted of reversing the gender inequality present in the field of education.

    Believing education to be one of the main agents of raising awareness and promoting women empowerment in the society, many feminists have fought to reserve a place for girls in this once-men-dominated area.

    For instance, their fight for women’s right to vote and equal educational policies like the National Curriculum have somewhere ended the reign of patriarchy and established a place for girls in education.

  • Changes in Employment and in Girls’ Ambitions:

    What do you think would be the answer of a 21st-century girl if she is asked what her main goal is in life?

    Don’t expect this: Catch a cultured boy, get married and have three to four children.

    Many Marxist feminists would agree that decades ago, the manufacturing sector was an area of production that was mostly dominated by men. However, the moment this sector fell, the service industry popped up, structured to help close the gap between men and women.

    When the service sector attracted more women and boosted their social and economic positions in the society, girls’ ambitions from family-wise and marriage changed to career, independence and money.

    This significant change indirectly shaped the transition of girls’ uneducated position to successful educational achievers.


    In the next part of this series, I’ll emphasize on the explanations behind boys’ educational underachievement. Those interested, please don’t forget to come back for the second article.