Skills Intelligence Publication

Creating a more inclusive, just and equitable world – the essence of sustainable development – means ensuring that all men and women, all boys and girls, can lead empowered and dignified lives. One of the key ways to achieve this goal is an inclusive and gender-equitable education of good quality that enables men and women to develop the right skills and find opportunities to use them productively. Education is also at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the international community sets itself to achieve by 2030. To that end, many countries have witnessed a remarkable evolution over the past two decades, in terms of closing the gender gap in education access and learning outcomes between girls and boys. But the reality remains more complex. 

The 2023 Gender, Education and Skills Report on the persistence of gender gaps in education and skills presents fresh insights on progress towards gender parity in education with respect to access, attainment and learning, using data from the latest rounds of the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Education at a Glance (EAG). The report tries to understand why teen boys are more likely than girls, on average, to fail to attain a baseline level of proficiency in reading, mathematics and science, and why high-performing girls do not continue investing in developing skills in areas such as mathematics and science, when compared to high-performing boys. The report also describes that despite overall gender gaps in mathematics and science being quite small, young women continue to be under-represented in STEM-related fields after leaving school. At university, men develop greater proficiency in numeracy than women, probably due to these very different career choices that men and women make. But it is also noticed that the advantage in literacy performance that girls had during compulsory education seems to narrow or completely disappear at university.

It is common knowledge that education is critical for sustainable development and achieving basic human rights. Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to foster the right type of skills, attitudes and behaviour that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth. Inclusive growth requires that education is inclusive of the development of both men and women. But gender equality in education cannot be achieved by the education sector alone. It requires concerted efforts by parents, teachers and employers to become more aware of their own conscious or unconscious biases so that they give girls and boys equal chances for success at school and beyond.

This report is a valuable contribution to the OECD’s work on gender issues, which examines existing barriers to gender equality in education and the labour market with the aim of improving policies and promoting gender equality in both OECD and partner countries. It starts with an introduction that presents the main highlights from the remainder of the report and the is presented through the following structure:

  • Section 2 shows that gender gaps in upper secondary education attainment have almost closed with more than 80% of women on average across the OECD completing education at this level. But the section also reveals that in most countries, those who quit school early are predominantly men.
  • Section 3 analyses the gender gaps in performance in upper secondary education. Gender gaps in cognitive skills of boys and girls around age 15 are similar across countries.
  • Section 4 posits that student attitudes (motivation, interest) in studying a particular subject rather than their ability. 
  • Section 5 tries to understand the transition from school to tertiary education and the gender gaps at higher levels of education. While the share of women with tertiary education has risen consistently in recent decades, young women are much less likely than young men to choose Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) as fields of study at graduate level. 
  • Sections 6 and 7 discuss the skill levels of university students and those of adults later in life. 
  • Section 8 emphasises the inevitable consequences of these gender imbalances in fields of study and choices of careers
  • Section 9 offers ways and key learnings from different countries that could be used to address these systemic and pervasive gender gaps in a systematic and planned manner. The policy suggestions in this report could serve as a toolkit for policy makers and stakeholders willing to tackle gender inequality. The time is now to ensure that better policies lead to better lives – for girls and boys, and for women and men.