Boys Left Behind in Reading and Writing Skills

Girls lag behind boys in STEM subjects, both in interest and performance. Despite concentrated efforts to increase awareness and involvement, recent reports reveal girls still aren’t embracing STEM careers. But while boys fare better in math and science, studies show that their performance in reading and writing is consistently lower than their female counterparts.

For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which assesses reading performance, reported average reading scores among U.S. students in 2015 (the latest year with available data) as follows:

Boys Girls
4th Grade 219 226
8th Grade 261 270
12th Grade 282 292


These studies are consistent with a new UK-based National Literacy Trust report in which 76 percent of UK schools said boys did not perform as well as girls in reading and writing. The table below shows the percentage of boys and girls performing at the expected level:

Reading Writing
Boys Girls Boys Girls
Age 7 82% 89% 76% 87%
Age 11 80% 88% 69% 71%


The report doesn’t specifically track the reading and writing levels of students at the age of 14, but it does track overall English skills, and only 76 percent of boys, vs. 88 percent of girls, are performing at the expected level.

So, what accounts for these differences in reading and writing among boys and girls? The National Literacy Trust points to several factors:

Girls enjoy reading more than boys

Among kids between the ages of 8 and 16, boys (56 percent) are more likely to say that they do not like reading – or they like it very little, compared with 43 percent of girls. (A global study by PISA reveals that 52 percent of boys found enjoyment in reading, versus 73 percent of girls.)

Given a choice, 62 percent of boys would choose watching TV over reading, compared with 46 percent of girls. Also, 31 percent of boys only read when they had to, compared with 21 percent of girls.

Gender differences in how boys and girls view those who read:

Boys Girls
Readers are happy 40% 46%
Readers are clever 61% 70%
Readers will do well in life 54% 66%
Readers are boring 18% 13%
Readers are geeks 22% 19%


Girls spend more time reading than boys

Over a third of girls (35 percent) said that they read outside of the classroom, compared with 26 percent of boys. And, since practice makes perfect, the additional time spent reading provides girls with a competitive edge.

Parents are less likely to stress reading to boys

Kids are quick to pick up on signals from their parents and other adults, and if reading isn’t stressed or modeled, they’re less likely to think it’s important.

For example: girls are more likely than boys to be given books as presents (85.3 percent compared with 79.7 percent).

Also, a study by Killian Mullan reveals that boys who observe their fathers reading for at least 30 minutes a day tend to read more than boys who don’t ever observe their fathers reading. However, the NLT report reveals that father are less likely to take an active role in reading with either gender.

And, according to another study, this one by Kevin Milligan and Michael Baker, parents are more likely to take girls to the library and they also read to girls for a longer period of time.

Boys more likely to consider their peers

Boys also seem to be more susceptible to peer pressure in this area. For example, 19 percent of boys admitted they would be embarrassed to be seen reading by their friends.

Why boys need to read

Cas Paton, managing director of, tells GoodCall® that boys appear to take their cues from their parents, especially their fathers. “According to our survey, 39 percent of fathers admit to ‘never’ or ‘very rarely’ reading to their children, and 29 percent parents with both boys and girls admit to reading to their daughters more often.”

When boys don’t express a desire to read, Paton says that parents don’t press the issue. “But this is problematic because boys need to be exposed to new words and spellings, and reading helps with language development.”

And Paton says this is why boys tend to underperform in the arts and humanities, which are more likely to involve writing and verbal communication skills.

The college majors dominated by men vs. women include engineering specialties and construction services. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need reading and writing skills.

A recent study reveals that only one third of students enter college with research skills, which can negatively impact their academic performance, and since research is a life-long skill, it can reveal a flaw in critical thinking.

Jennifer Young, director, social impact programs at Pearson, tells GoodCall® that parents play a critical role in the early learning process of their children. “The evidence is pretty clear that the more time a parent spends reading with a child, the more prepared that child will be to succeed in school and in life.”

Young is also concerned that boys may not be benefiting from reading role models or concerted efforts to boost their reading levels. “But I do think that behavior change campaigns like the one Pearson and Worldreader just launched in India called “Read to Kids” can benefit both boys and girls by empowering parents to be their children’s first teacher.”