Study: Boys Affected More Than Girls By ‘Family Disadvantages’

Sam Dorman and Zachary Leshin | December 30, 2015 | 9:52am EST
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(AP photo)

( -- “Family disadvantages” - including poverty, low education level of the mother, and not having a father in the house - affect boys more than their sisters, according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northwestern University, and the University of Florida analyzed ten years of administrative records for Florida students born between 1992 and 2002.

They found that boys in families facing adverse circumstances significantly underperformed their sisters in behavioral and educational outcomes despite the fact that they had similar upbringings.

The study, which was published in October, compared sibling students of opposite gender in Florida, and found a substantial “gender gap” between boys and girls. Researchers found that a large portion of school suspensions, poor test scores, and cognitive or behavioral disabilities could be accounted for by “family disadvantages.”

"Family disadvantage makes both a substantial direct contribution to the gender gap as well as an indirect contribution through its influence on schools and neighborhoods," they noted.

"The impact of family disadvantage on the outcomes of boys relative to girls is already evident by the time of kindergarten entry, is further manifested in behavioral and educational gaps in elementary and middle-school performance, and crystallizes into sharp differences in high school graduations by age 18 and criminal activity by age 16,” the study concludes.

"These differences are largely independent of neighborhood quality and school quality, though we observe that better-quality schools help to mitigate the gender gap in educational and behavioral outcomes," the study found.

“These estimates imply that a sizable portion of the minority-white difference in educational and behavioral gender gaps is attributable to higher degrees of family disadvantage among minority families — which in turn disproportionately impairs the behavioral and educational advancement of minority relative to white boys.” asked Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men, for her views regarding the study findings.

“There have been similar findings,” she replied. “A few years ago, a think tank called the Third Way - it's a bipartisan group of social scientists and researchers who looked at social problems and try to cancel out one another's biases, you have liberals and conservatives - and they found that boys are more vulnerable to family instability than girls. And especially hard hit are working class White, Hispanic, and African American boys, working class and poor.”

“The Third Way found it in their research, and now again we have a group of researchers who have documented the same phenomena," she continued.

"It's important to look at because we often incorrectly think that a child's prospects are determined by home environment, and family income, neighborhood, and all of that is true. But the question arises: In the same family, why are the girls doing so much better than their brothers? They have the same background, and same neighborhood, same life situation.

“One theory is that in a broken home, you'll typically have a single mother, and she's working very hard, struggling, and the daughter will identify with her, so she'll have a role model, someone who's hardworking and resilient. And young men may define themselves, as they do, they need a father figure, they don't have one. They're not necessarily going to identify with the mother, and they also have primarily women teachers, and [so they] develop the sense of themselves probably from their peers," Somners told

“There's a tremendous focus on the academic needs of girls, everything is tilted towards the needs of girls. Now these programs for girls are great, and girls are benefitting.

“But where are the programs for boys? I can't find them. And I do find opposition. If you try to do something for boys, some people will accuse you of carrying out a backlash against girls,” Sommers continued. asked her for possible solutions to resolve the gender gap issue.

“There are different solutions," she replied. "One is, and this has been tried, to create some charter schools, like all-male academies. And those have been very successful. And you organize the school typically with a lot of male teachers, and many things that boys need and enjoy, teachers that use a lot of humor, and very active classrooms.

“The problem is a number of organizations, led by the ACLU, have gone around to try to shut down these programs. They say it's gender segregation. And they want to tell us all kids are the same. If you treat them the same, you won't have male/female differences.

“Well, it's just not true. If you treat them the same, you'll have far more boys languishing and at a disadvantage,” Sommers said.

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