Girls continue to secure higher exam grades

The dominance of girls in securing higher grades continues in most Leaving Certificate subjects.

However, State Examinations Commission data also shows male students are still more likely to choose higher level maths and to achieve better grades in the subject.

Maths and chemistry are among the few subjects at higher level in which a higher proportion of boys got As, when results were received this week.

The lure of 25 extra college-entry points for passing higher level maths has seen numbers taking the tougher exams jump from just 16% in 2011 to 28% of those who were examined in maths this summer. But the gender breakdown of the grades awarded in the subject shows boys are still more likely to do so.

The 8,033 boys who did higher level maths represent 29.4% of all males who sat exams in the subject this year.

But nearly 7,200 of female maths candidates chose higher level, or 26.6% of girls, the same gender gap of almost 3% that has been in place for the past number of years.

Girls continue to secure higher exam grades

With an emphasis this week also on failure rates, the SEC statistics show girls who did choose higher level maths were nearly one and a half times as likely as males not to pass. The 399 females who failed the honours exam represent 5.6% of those who sat it, compared to 313 out of the 8,033 males, or 3.9%.

The rate of As is significantly higher among boys doing honours maths, nearly 14% compared to less than 8% of girls, and only 68.2% of females got an honours grade (A, B, or C), compared to almost 75% of males.

While the figures show there may be some positive impact of campaigns to encourage more girls to study and aim at careers based around STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, their higher failure rates may also be worth some examination.

The chief examiner of Leaving Certificate maths said some students may be making the wrong choice to attempt higher level maths, with the rises in participation being attributed to the new Project Maths syllabus as well as to the bonus points in the Central Applications Office entry system.

With concerns this week also from business organisation Ibec, about the need for more graduates with foreign languages, the data reveal a big shortage of males studying European languages to Leaving Certificate level.

Fewer than 6,000 boys took higher level French this year, less than two-thirds of the 9,274 of female students who did so, and they are also significantly less likely to get top grades in the subject.

Only 45% of the 7,627 candidates for Leaving Certificate German were boys, who made up just 2,166 — or 41% — of the 5,257 people taking the subject at higher level.

Girls outnumber boys by nearly eight-to-one among over 11,600 who did home economics this year, while there were more than three boys taking applied maths for all 475 girls who did so at either higher or ordinary level.

Males outnumber female students of Leaving Certificate physics — 5,884 and 1,868, respectively — but chemistry was more popular among girls, as just under 5,000 were examined, compared to 4,139 male students.

There continues to be a significant under-representation of girls among the numbers taking construction studies, engineering, technology, and design and communication graphics.

Women less competitive than men, study suggests

Joe Leogue

Women are less competitive than men, which may explain the under-representation of females in top positions, according to French academics.

Professors José de Sousa and Guillaume Hollard studied more than three million games of chess from 154 countries to find that in games with comparatively equal opponents — same in age, nationality and ranking — women were more likely to lose against men.

Prof de Sousa suggests that psychological reasons are behind these findings.

“Male players seem to want to beat female players more, women know that. When women are told that they tend to do worse, they usually do,” he said.

“Women often shy away from competition. Perhaps men push harder against women. The man thinks he controls the game and has to win,” Prof de Sousa.

Their paper, Gender differences: evidence from field tournaments, outlines their theory.

“Based on previous evidence, we suspect that psychological gender differences arise mainly because men tend to be more aggressive when competing against female opponents (rather than male ones),” the paper states.

“Several studies indeed looked at the sequence of play and concluded that male players choose riskier strategies when playing against female opponents.” The academics argue that chess eliminates conditions that lend themselves to discrimination, and that data can be compared across countries because it’s measured in the same way.

However when comparable male players were compared to similar female players, men were 2% more likely to win across all countries.

The pair have suggested that the psychological effect of competition “may translate into a massive under-representation of women at the top of the hierarchy because they drop out and stop putting in effort. Thus inducing an even more profound impact on the overall gender gap.”

Professor de Sousa has argued that in the likes of business and job interviews, men are more competitive, and said that there is a need “to work on how boys and girls view competition — teaching girls to be more competitive, and boys to be less.” Their paper further argues that “traditional explanations, like differences in productivity and discrimination, are now complemented by psychological explanations based on lab experiments”.

“Controlling for discrimination and productivity, we find that women are suffering a systematic handicap when playing against men. This “psychological” effect is further amplified through the tournament structure, preventing women from reaching top positions in the chess hierarchy.

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