What Is IT About Boys and School Suspensions?

Boys are far more likely than girls to act out in school and face suspensions. This behavior has long-term effects well beyond high school. New research seeks to explore the question of how this gender gap may originate in troubled home lives, as well as the ways in which parents treat boys differently than girls.

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The School Suspension Gender Gap

Dennis the Menace may be a cartoon character, but there are clear parallels between his troublesome nature and his real-life peers. In a paper recently released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan reported on their findings regarding the impact of social influences on boys' disruptive behavior. The premise for the research was a set of alarming data highlighting the gender disparity.

Bertrand and Pan looked at surveys tracking students who began kindergarten in 1988 and following them for a dozen years beyond eighth grade. While the number of girls who had been suspended for one or more days by eighth grade was around ten percent, the number of boys was closer to 25%. Furthermore, while the suspension rate for girls remained constant from the 1980s until 2006, the latest year with data, the rate for boys climbed steadily.

Understanding Boys' Bad Behavior

According to the researchers, boys may be affected by both biological and environmental factors. While environmental factors at school affect boys and girls equally, those occurring at home disproportionately mar the behavior of boys. For example, they found that boys raised by teenage mothers or single parents, rather than in a home with two biological parents, exhibited far worse behavior and had a higher suspension rate than girls in similar situations.

In addition, the researchers discovered that the home life in families with girls differed from that of families with boys. Girls are more likely to have their parents read to them; in fact, parents of girls are simply more inclined to have a home with books present. In general, parents more often take female children to concerts or sign them up for extracurricular activities than male children.

A Lasting Impact

Suspensions have immediate effects on a child's education, but they also have long-term effects that can seriously damage a child's future. According to earlier research cited in Bertrand and Pan's report, a single suspension lowers a student's likelihood of attending college by 16%; their chance of graduating college is also lowered by nine percent.

The gender gap with school suspensions has begun to impact the presence of males in higher education. Between 2000 and 2009, male undergraduate enrollment in the United States grew by 31%, but female enrollment grew by 35%. By 2009, females represented 57% of enrollments. While female enrollments are expected to continue their steady climb, male enrollments are expected to level off. Without a reduction in the gender gap in suspension, the outlook for boys in higher education is not bright.

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