Girls are better than boys in reading, but they also can keep up with boys in mathematics when the genders are on a more equal footing in their native countries, according to research published in the Science journal.

The data came to light on closer examination by Luigi Guiso of European University Institute in Florence of data of a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study published in 2003. At the time, the maths and reading skills of more than 276,000 boys and girls aged 15 from 40 countries were compared.

Guiso’s research showed a relationship between the social position of women in a country and the math skills of girls in that country. The higher the position, the greater the girls’ abilities in mathematics.

According to the analysis, girls were indeed on average worse in maths than their male counterparts, but in countries with more equality for women, the imbalance shifted in favour of girls.

In Sweden and Norway, where there is now almost no inequality between men and women, there is hardly any difference in the maths performance of boys and girls. In Turkey and South Korea, on the other hand, where there remains greater inequality between the genders, there is a gaping difference.

By contrast the social position of women had only a slight effect on the reading performance of the 15-year-olds. In all participating countries, girls achieved better results in this area, although females were able to score extra points in areas with greater equality.

The researchers said females could equal mathematical performance of males through general equ-ality, and they could further extend their already existing lead in reading. — DPA