Girls are more ambitious than boys when plotting their career paths while at school, the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says.
At the age of 15, 66 per cent of girls from OECD countries had expectations of getting skilled white-collar jobs, compared with 58 per cent of boys. The gap in ambitions was more marked in Britain, where the respective figures were 63 per cent and 51 per cent.
In Belgium, the Czech Republic and Denmark a quarter more girls than boys expected to get a lucrative white-collar job by the age of 30. Andreas Schleicher, head of analysis at the OECD, said the research also revealed girls were better at overcoming social disadvantage.
Girls were far better in reading ability. The difference in reading scores among 15-year-olds ranged from eight points in Italy to more than 20 points in England, Greece, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
The report concluded: "In all OECD countries, 15-year-old males are more likely to be among the lowest-performing students in reading literacy. These findings suggest that the under-achievement of young males across subject domains is a significant challenge for education policy that will need particular attention if the proportion of students at the lowest levels of proficiency is to be reduced."
Dr Schleicher said almost the entire advance in education standards throughout the OECD countries was attributable to advances by girls. "Girls have greatly contributed to educational advance," he said. "It is not that boys are getting worse." He added that much of the growth in higher education places was due to the improving performance of girls.
In Britain, the figures for 2001 show that 49 per cent of female school leavers entered higher education compared with 41 per cent of males. In New Zealand, as many as 89 per cent of women go on to university, compared with 62 per cent of men.
Dr Schleicher said there were "troubling signs" that boys were more susceptible to being put off education by disruptions in their home environment. They were also less likely to overcome obstacles to success - such as lack of family support or peer group pressure to rebel. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Girls, more than boys, nowadays see education as a passport to a good job. Boys are more prepared to take the risk of not succeeding educationally in the hope that they will earn a good living with fewer qualifications."Reuse content