US Boys Graduate High School at Lower Rates Than Girls

14 November 2023

The U.S. government does not require states to report graduation rates by a student's sex. But in every state reporting high school graduation rates by gender, research shows female students graduate at higher rates than male students.

A report from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., found that, in 37 states reporting the data, more than 45,000 fewer boys than girls graduated high school in 2018.

Richard Reeves was one of the writers of the report from 2021. He said that about 88 percent of girls graduated on time compared with 82 percent of boys that year. A follow up study in 2021 found the difference in graduation between girls and boys in 28 states was six percent. This difference is not just limited to the United States.

Bryant West poses for a portrait on a basketball court built by NBA star Devin Booker, who went to high school here, in Moss Point, Miss., Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Bryant West poses for a portrait on a basketball court built by NBA star Devin Booker, who went to high school here, in Moss Point, Miss., Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) measures education data in many countries. Among 38 member countries, including most of North America, South America and Europe, more girls graduate high school than boys.

In 2020, the average graduation rate for girls in OECD countries was 86 percent for girls, but 79 percent for boys. Just two countries that provided data to OECD, the Czech Republic and South Korea, had a higher graduation rate for boys.

OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures student knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, and science at age 15. Eighty-five countries take PISA. OECD information shows that girls mostly perform better in reading than boys. Boys perform better in science and math.

Gender gap

The difference between graduation rates for girls and boys in the U.S. is being called a "gender gap." Few people talk about it and reports suggest that schools have done little to deal with the issue. But some schools have found ways to fight it.

The city of Yonkers, New York, raised graduation rates for minority boys through support such as mentoring. Former Superintendent Edwin Quezada said dealing with the difference between races in graduation rates was useful toward understanding the gender gap, which was seven percentage points in 2022.

Boys are sent to special education at higher rates than girls in early grades and are suspended at higher rates throughout school. That can all result in not graduating on time, Quezada said.

Schools in the city of Buffalo, New York, have included efforts from My Brother's Keeper. That was the program started by former President Barack Obama to help boys succeed in school. Buffalo also has provided mentoring to male students and hired more men to teach, spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said. Still, the urban school district reported a 10-percentage-point difference between female and male graduation rates in 2022 and an 11-point gap in 2021.

"Girls nationally succeed in school over boys because they are more apt to plan ahead (and) set academic goals," Hammond wrote in an email. He said girls receive fewer school suspensions, showing they are more likely to follow rules and receive more instruction from teachers.

Only 10 states that report graduation rates by gender also measure it by race. That makes it difficult to understand how race influences the graduation gender gap. But Reeves found some important differences in his latest study in the five largest states that do report graduation by race. He found that the difference between the graduation rate of Black girls and Black boys was much larger than the difference between white girls and white boys or Asian girls and Asian boys.

This year, Reeves left the Brookings Institution to start the American Institute for Boys and Men. It is a nonprofit group that says it aims to improve men's lives.

Graduation gap

The graduation gap is also linked to what observers call a success gap between students from wealthy and poor families. But the reasons for the difference between boys and girls are not clear.

Discussions with students, educators and researchers point to several influences. Men can earn the same pay as women with less education. But boys also are more likely to be suspended or face other forms of discipline and punishment. And they do not seek treatment as often as girls do when they face mental health problems.

Some boys are fine when they first drop out of school, finding jobs with good pay. But over the long term, not graduating from high school can hold men back. Studies show young men who drop out of high school earn less money over their lifetimes and are more likely to end up in jail.

In some cases, boys are not as interested in graduating as girls because they have not needed a high school degree to pay for rent and food, said Beth Jarosz. She is with the nonprofit research organization PRB. A man without a high school diploma often earns as much as a woman who has completed a year or two of college, she said.

I'm Dan Novak. And I'm Gena Bennett.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press and OECD.


Words in This Story

graduation –n. the act of being recognized for completing a course of study at a school, college or university

gender –n. the state of being male or female

gap — n. a difference between one thing and another; a space between two things

discipline — n. the use of rules and punishment to shape behavior to meet certain requirements

apt — adj. likely to do something

academic –adj. related to schools and education; not related to the real world

rent –n. a regular payment for a place to live, which is not owned by the payee

diploma –n. a document that