Behavioural problems cannot explain differences in the educational achievements of girls and boys

Late pubertal development is associated with a slower rate of cognitive skill growth during adolescence, which is also reflected in lower levels of educational attainment and earnings later in life.

Photo: Michal Knitl /

According to a study by Tuomas Pekkarinen and Kristian Koerselman, the timing of puberty can only explain a small amount of the differences in educational outcomes of girls and boys.

It is a well-known fact that girls mature earlier than boys. Since the gender difference in pubertal development is greatest during the years in which important secondary education decisions are taken, the timing of puberty is often cited as one potential explanation for female dominance in educational achievement in most developed countries.

According to the study, which is based on an extensive British data sample, late developing children experience substantially slower development of cognitive skills between ages 7 and 16, which in turn can affect their education and labour market outcomes later in life. Tuomas Pekkarinen points out that this result cannot be explained by behavioural changes related to puberty, such as lack of self-discipline.

“Behavioural problems related to puberty are often associated with boys in public debate, and indeed, they are more common among boys. According to our study, the effect of the timing of puberty is not as direct: it explains some of the gender differences in educational achievement, but statistically the difference is very small.”

Pekkarinen also notes that in Finland, 16-year-olds need to make difficult choices when applying for secondary education, and particularly for vocational education where the range of education offered is extensive. It is also important to consider the individual developmental differences, which is already a standard practice in most Finnish schools.  

“The British education system has traditionally been quite straightforward, but late development can still be seen in final educational achievement and wages in Britain. Although this was not directly addressed in the study, late developing children can experience great difficulties in Finland, where the choices related to secondary education can be awfully complicated.”



The Timing of Puberty and Gender Differences in Educational Achievement. VATT Working Papers 97

More information:
Tuomas Pekkarinen, Research Professor, +358 295 519 465