“Half of the Morning Sky”: Exploring Gendered Patterns of Chinese Adolescents’ Educational Performance

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Xiaorong GU, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Wei-Jun Jean YEUNG, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Guided by theories of child development, gender and education, we report a mixed-method study on gendered educational performance among Chinese adolescents, drawing on two waves of China Family Panel Studies data and a field research in Hunan and Guangdong during 2014-2015. The quantitative analysis reveals girls' significantly higher test scores (especially in verbal skills). Moreover, this gender gap has widened across waves. That is, relative to the 2010 data, while girls in 2014 not only have maintained strength in word test (p<0.01 in both waves), but also gained an additional edge in math score (from p>0.1 in 2010 to p< 0.05 in 2014). Regression analysis indicates that home environment and parenting variables as well as adolescents’ social and behavior skill variables are effective mediators between gender and test scores. In other words, Chinese parents’ increasingly equitable investment in girls’ cognitive development, higher aspirations and stricter involvement, together with girls’ better social and behavior skills, are boosting girls’ academic performance. Our qualitative analysis explores how gender and class intersect in shaping gendered (or gender-neutral) parenting strategies and how the educational system provides channels of gendered learning experience. These results should be interpreted in view of the broader social milieu in reform China: state-engineered low fertility, expansion of free compulsory education, changing patterns of old age support and normative ideas of the gendered life course. The current study bears significant academic and policy implications. It opens space for empirical and theoretical discussions of how the gender stratification system is intricately interlinked with family and educational systems in a rapidly changing society. On the policy front, if further empirical evidence confirms these findings, for China’s educational policy-makers, a rising concern would be how to better accommodate male students in their educational experiences and improve their performance for more balanced social development.