Cape Town - The age-old question of who is smarter, men or women, may just have been answered by a study which says that girls do better than boys.
The study, titled The Martha Effect: The compounding female advantage in South African higher education, by Dr Nic Spaull and Hendrik van Broekhuizen was published in the Stellenbosch Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics and the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University.
Spaull said that on average girls do better than boys and said he hoped the study would prompt us to ask why females seem to be doing better at school and university, but worse in the labour market.
“They learn to read much quicker than boys do, which is true of pretty much all middle- and high-income countries. In South Africa girls also perform better in mathematics.”
Spaull and Van Broekhuizen, of the research group on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP) in the university's Department of Economics said they looked at large nationally representative survey from 2011 and 2015.
The survey showed that by Grade 4 girls were a full year of learning ahead of their male peers in reading and in Grade 5 about 40% were a year ahead of boys in mathematics. However, by matric this has reversed and boys do better than girls in maths and science.
“Females are paid 15% to 17% less than men for the exact same work… The most surprising thing about the study was the females were always and everywhere 20% less likely to drop out of university, even in male-dominated fields such as engineering and computer science where they are severely under-represented.”
He said the most interesting part of the study was to see how large and systematic the female advantage was.
"We found strong evidence of a large female advantage that continues to grow at each hurdle of the higher education process. To be specific, relative to their male counterparts we find that there were 27% more females who qualified for university, 34% more who enrolled in university, 56% more who complete any undergraduate qualification and 66% more who attain a bachelor’s degree. This despite there being roughly equal numbers of boys and girls at the start of school."
Spaull said the “phenomenon” is not just a South African one and the emergence of female advantage at school and university is a global trend among middle and high-income countries.