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PISA in Focus

PISA in Focus is a series of monthly education policy-oriented notes designed to describe a PISA topic in a concise, user-friendly way.

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Do boys and girls have similar attitudes towards competition and failure?

While in most countries today women attain higher levels of education than men, on average, they are less likely than men to be employed and they earn less. There are many reasons why these gender gaps open; some are apparent in secondary school. For example, even when they outperform boys academically, girls are less likely than their male peers to choose the pathways through education and fields of study, such as science, mathematics or computing, that lead to the highest-paid professions. On average across OECD countries, only 14% of girls who were top performers in science or mathematics reported that they expect to work as professionals in science or engineering while 26% of top-performing boys so reported. That decision can have negative consequences for women’s labour market prospects.

Self-efficacy and self-esteem may affect the choices teenagers make for their future education and career. Fear of failure may lead students to be self-protective and thus avoid challenging situations and opportunities that are essential for learning and development. By contrast, a willingness to compete may influence the decision to take calculated risks, such as applying for admission to prestigious universities or for a higher position in a company.

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