Study Suggests Gender Differences In Reading To Children But I’m Skeptical

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family-reading-timeI have always had a hard time buying the arguments about little boys being so different from girls. My eighteen month-old daughter plays with Barbies, things that go “vroom” and balls. No, she doesn’t cradle her toy cars like baby dolls. She has rowdy, playful moments and calm, cuddly ones as well.

This study by Michael Baker at the University of Toronto and Kevin Milligan at the University of British Columbia reveals that, in the US, Canada and Britain, “Girls, not boys, in all three countries received more time from parents on three activities: reading, storytelling, and teaching letters and numbers.” It would appear that parents care more about teaching girls to read than boys, but there are other explanations for these gender differences in reading.

From The Atlantic:

One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities. (Theories suggesting innate differences between boys and girls and between men and women are hotly debated.) Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters, and have active play with sons.


It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls. As an economist, he isn’t referring to cost in the sense of cash; he means cost in the sense of effort.


“It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” he says, “these sorts of things.”

Okay, I’m totally going to brag a little here. Before my daughter could crawl, she knew how to sit in my lap and turn the pages of her board books when I asked her to. I don’t think I had any intention of creating a child genius or even being the overachieving mother who spends every waking moment educating her child. Honestly, reading was one of the first cooperative activities my daughter and I engaged in. It was remarkable to be communicating with her, and to be doing something that held both of our attention. Waving a toy in front of her face or pushing her around in a stroller just didn’t have the same charm.

But I don’t think I spend so much time reading with my daughter because she’s a girl. I think I do it because that’s the kind of mother I am. I’m no scientist, but here’s my theory on why the girls get more reading time with parents than the boys — I think it has more to do with the gender of the parent than the gender of the child.

First, I think it’s still way more common for moms to stay at home with kids than dads, so moms are going to have the most influence on their kid’s early development. Also, even though we have “mama’s boys” and “daddy’s girls,” I think little kids tend to pay greater attention to the parent whose gender they relate to. So, effectively, I think a daughter is more likely to pay attention to her mom during reading time than a son. And parents are only human, too. If we’re repeatedly attempting an activity that our kid just doesn’t seem to care about, chances are we’re going to give up after awhile.

But like I said, I don’t have a son, so I don’t know. Still, I refuse to believe that little girls are “hardwired” to care more about language than little boys.

(photo: rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock)