Boys’ Childhood Behavioral Problems Negatively Affect Academics in Adulthood

June 24, 2016 Updated: June 28, 2016

The disparities in educational attainment between genders was partially explained in a new study released by the American Sociological Association on June 22.

Titled “Early Childhood Behavior Problems and the Gender Gap in Educational Attainment in the United States,” the study revealed that behavioral problems in early childhood disproportionately negatively affects the outcomes of adulthood education for boys more than girls. 

Sociologist Jayanti Owens, a professor at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and author of the study, compared 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls who shared similar behavioral problems and found that boys were punished more harshly than their female counterparts.    

“I found that boys were less likely to learn and more likely to be held back in school,” said Owens. “My study also showed that the way schools respond to boys’ behaviors plays a significant role in shaping their educational outcomes years later. … Gender differences in both students’ behavior and educators’ responses to behavior problems explained more than half (59.4 percent) of the gender gap in schooling completed among adults.”

According to Owens, boys’ and girls’ academic experience differ upon entrance into schools. “It’s partly because boys come to school with higher levels of behavior problems, and partly because of the ways boys’ behaviors tend to be treated by teachers, peers, and administrators,” she said.

She added, “That boys typically have worse behaviors when they start school may help explain why their behaviors are more detrimental to achievement—stereotypes about boys’ bad behavior may cause educators to take more and harsher actions against male students. This process may lead to a compounding and cyclical relationship between boys’ behavior problems and lower achievement.”

Suspension and expulsion are commonly used for disciplinary problems as a way to maintain a conducive learning environment for both students and teachers. Yet research has shown a correlation between such methods and low academic achievement and drop-outs, and in turn, high rates of incarceration. U.S. schools that house 98 percent white teachers and a lack of cultural competency have led to higher rates of suspensions and expulsion of black male students.

“A North Carolina public school district in 2014–2015 suspended 3,661 black and Latino students. In comparison, that district suspended 616 white students during that academic year. This signals to incoming teachers that students of color are unruly, troublemakers, and in need of ‘fixing’,” Donovan Livingston, an educator, told Epoch Times. 

Owens also found that boys in elementary school are exposed more to negative school environments and experience peer pressure; in high school they are more likely to repeat the same grade and are given lower educational expectations in comparison to girls. 

Owens suggests support systems can have a positive impact on the success of boys. 

“Supportive home and school contexts that proactively encourage the early development of self-regulation and social skills and help make school more relevant to pre-existing interests can do a lot for boys’ long-term success,” she said.

Owens’s study will appear in the July print edition of “Sociology of Education.”