Girls do better
The pro-female gender gap in learning outcomes in South Africa 1995-2018
In this article we analyse gender gaps in educational outcomes in South Africa using four nationally-representative datasets - Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) and Matriculation – over the period 1995-2018. We show that girls outperform boys at the mean in all subjects and all grades, including in Mathematics and Physical Science, as well as in the school-leaving exam, Matric. Pro-girl gaps at the primary-school level are large and statistically significant with Grade 4 girls an entire year ahead of Grade 4 boys in reading outcomes. Similarly, large differences can be found in the most recent (2018) Matric microdata. We show that the received wisdom in South Africa, that males outperform females in Mathematics and Physical Science in Matric, is partly a function of higher rates of male dropout in high school, leaving a stronger cohort of males to write matric. In 2018, for every 100 females in matric there were only 80 males. If one compares an equal number of males and females in matric, girls do unequivocally better in all 13 subjects when looking at average performance. When looking at higher levels of achievement (60%+) girls do better in nine subjects and boys do better in two subjects (Mathematics and Physical Science). However, girls are still less likely to fail these two subjects when compared to their male counterparts. Given these results and the theory that human capital contributes to employment and earnings, we see the need for further research in the South African context for why the female advantage in education does not translate into a female advantage in the labour market. What are the general, and specific, constraints for why women experience inferior labour outcomes in the world of work?