A study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has found that the income and educational background of parents has a noticeable impact on the school performance of children. (Credit: Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)
A study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has confirmed that the income and educational background of parents has a noticeable impact on the school performance of children also in Finland. (Credit: Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)


Differences between the school performance of boys and girls have existed for at least a decade in Finland, according to a study that followed people born in 1997 for 12 years.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Monday published the results of the massive cohort study, highlighting that over a half of girls but only a third of boys had a grade average grade of eight or higher at the end of basic education.

An average grade of nine or higher was received by 21 per cent of girls but only by 8.5 per cent of boys, added Tomi Kiilakoski, a senior researcher at the Finnish Youth Research Society.

“What’s especially interesting is that we’re used to thinking that student assessment follows […] the normal distribution. And the grades do follow it relatively neatly when it comes to boys, but not when it comes to girls,” he summarised at the launch event of the study report in Helsinki on Monday.

The researchers also compared the school performance of the age group to that of people born ten years earlier, in 1987, finding that the share of girls with an excellent average grade (9–10) has risen by three percentage points and that of boys with an excellent average grade only by one percentage point.

“The changes are relatively marginal,” said Kiilakoski. “It does seem that we’re talking about a structural quality of the primary school system. Boys don’t do as well when it’s time to receive the final certification for one reason or another.”

Kiilakoski stated that the results are eye-opening also from another viewpoint: they lend support to the recapitulation of Donald Broady, a researcher of the sociology of education at Uppsala University, Sweden, that the only relatively sure way to succeed in school is to select high-income and well educated parents.

He added that the results are “unpleasantly linear” when it comes to the income level of parents.

“The wealthier the parents, the higher the grades of their children among both girls and boys,” said Kiilakoski. “This is an issue that I’ve personally struggled to accept. Our basic education system has somehow been ingrained with the idea of radical equality, that anyone regardless of their background can succeed in school.”

“No matter the indicators you choose, family background has a significant impact. In addition to choosing high-income and well educated parents, it’s also better to be a girl,” he told.

THL interpreted the results of the study also as an indication that the economic upturn that began in the mid-1990s has not guaranteed equal opportunity to all members of the age class born in 1997.

“Children growing up in a welfare state should have an opportunity to enjoy a happy childhood and equal conditions to lead a good life later regardless of their parents’ background. This requires services that identify factors endangering the development of children and supporting child well-being in a very family-oriented way,” stated Tiina Ristikari, a research director at THL.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi