Girls outperform boys at school regardless of levels of gender equality within a country, a new study reveals.
Psychologists at the universities of Glasgow and Missouri examined the educational achievement levels of 1.5 million 15-year-olds across the globe using Programme for International Student Assessment data taken between 2000 and 2010.
They discovered that girls performed better than boys in 70 per cent of these nations in maths, reading and science literacy subjects by the age of 15.
This was the case even in places with traditionally high levels of gender inequality, such as Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Countries with high levels of social, political and economic equality still experience gender differences in academic achievement, the study reveals.
Boys outperformed girls in only three regions: Colombia, Costa Rica, and the Indian state Himachal Pradesh.
The UK and the US were among the nations in which there was no statistically significant difference in combined achievement.
According to the researchers, there was more evidence of an attainment gap at the lowest levels of achievement. Among the very highest achievers in economically developed countries, the gap closes and is sometimes reversed.
Dr Gijsbert Stoet, reader in psychology at the University of Glasgow, who led the study, said achieving greater gender equality will not be the sole factor in closing the global education attainment gap.
"At the moment we see that, with the exception of high-achievers, boys have poorer educational outcomes than girls around the world, independent of social equality indicators," he remarked.
"What's more is that this gap in not reducing. If policy makers are seriously concerned about gender equality in education, this ought to be their top priority."
He added that while it is important to seek greater gender equality, it is also necessary to look for other policies that could help to narrow the achievement divide.
Posted by Harriet McGowan