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Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2013 Aug;15(4):407-15. doi: 10.3109/17549507.2012.721897. Epub 2012 Oct 10.

The relationship between gender, receptive vocabulary, and literacy from school entry through to adulthood.

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  • 1Institute of Health and Society School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK.


It is commonly assumed that boys have poorer language skills than girls, but this assumption is largely based on studies with small, clinical samples or focusing on expressive language skills. This study examines the relationship between gender and receptive vocabulary, literacy, and non-verbal performance at 5 years through to adulthood. The participants were a UK birth cohort of 11,349 children born in one week in March 1970. Logistic regression models were employed to examine the association of gender with language and literacy at 5 and 34 years. Non-verbal abilities were comparable at 5 years, but there were significant differences for both receptive vocabulary and reading, favouring the boys and the girls, respectively. Boys but not girls who had parents who were poor readers were more likely to be not reading at 5 years. Gender was not associated with adulthood literacy. Boys may have a slight advantage over girls in terms of their receptive vocabulary, raising questions about the skills tested and the characteristics of clinical populations. The findings are discussed in terms of the nature of the way that children are assessed and the assumptions underpinning clinical practice.

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