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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Girls top of the class worldwide
Women are now much more likely to go to university than men
Women have overtaken men at every level of education in developed countries around the world.

And girls are now more confident of getting better-paid, professional jobs than their flagging male counterparts.

International education figures, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, show a consistent picture, across cultures and continents, of women achieving better results than men.

The OECD survey is a detailed comparison of education achievement and spending in 43 developed countries.

The success of girls is a complete reversal of what would have been expected a generation ago, said Andreas Schleicher, head of analysis at the OECD's education directorate.

And he says that the 1990s have seen a remarkable change in women's expectations and achievements.

The survey found that in almost every developed country, 15-year-old girls are more confident than boys about getting high-income jobs.

For example, in the United Kingdom, 63% of girls expect to have "white collar, high-skilled" jobs by the time they are 30, compared to only 51% of boys.

This picture of girls with higher expectations than boys is repeated in the United States, Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Australia.

University challenge

And girls have good reason to be more confident than boys, because academically, around the globe, they are more successful - which is likely to lead to higher-income jobs.

Girls achieve more at school because they are watching the future while the boys are watching the girls
Guy Chapman, UK

In literacy skills, 15-year-old girls are ahead of boys in every one of the 43 countries in the OECD survey. In the UK, the gap in literacy scores between girls and boys at this age is 26%.

And this school-age gender gap leads to an increasingly stark difference between the success of male and female students in getting into university.

In New Zealand, 89% of women enter university, compared to 62% of men. In Iceland, 80% of women go into higher education, compared to 42% of men.

In the United Kingdom, the figures for 2001 show that 49% of women entered university, compared to 41% of men.

And Andreas Schleicher says that much of the rapid growth in higher education places and the larger number of students staying in education can be directly attributed to this growing academic success of women.

But why should boys be falling behind, in so many different countries?

Andreas Schleicher says there are "troubling signs" that boys are more susceptible to being put off education by disruptions in their home environment.

Boys seem less able to overcome obstacles to education, he says, whether it is peer group pressure or a lack of family support.

The BBC's James Westhead
"A dramatic worldwide change in one generation"

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