Boys don't regard university as a realistic career option and plan to get on by "knowing the right people", research has revealed.
A Ipsos-Mori survey, commissed by the Sutton Trust education think-tank, warned that of 2,400 11- to 16-year-olds in England and Wales, 76% of girls said they were likely to go on to higher education compared to 67% of boys.
The 9% gap is twice as high as last year's survey, signalling a "wide gap in attitudes" between girls and boys, according to the trust.
Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "We are looking for new ways to raise the attainment and aspirations of boys, particularly those from non-privileged backgrounds, so that more of them decide to go on to higher education."
The study also found that one in three boys did not intend to go to university because they "do not enjoy learning", compared to one in five girls.
Boys were more likely to list "knowing the right people", "family background" and "which secondary school you go to" as important factors in getting on in life. Girls, however, were more likely to list "aiming to do the best you can" and "being able to read and write well".
The trust is piloting US-style aptitude tests for sixth-formers, to be used as university entrance exams, to encourage more boys to go on to higher education.