Principal Heather McRae discusses new US research over gender performance in high school.
New research out of the US suggests that the inequalities in academic outcomes between men and women could be even more persistent than feared – in part because many men seem to have more confidence than women. A new study recently focused on performance in high school, and the startling result is this: girls with more exposure to high-achieving boys (as proxied by parental education) have a smaller chance of receiving a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, they do worse in maths and science, are less likely to join the labour force, and more likely to have more children, which in turn may limit their later career prospects.
Those are disturbing results. Nonetheless, the researchers dug into the data and found that female students, when exposed to the high-achieving male counterparts, suffer from lower confidence and, in measurable ways, weaker aspirations. It is difficult, however, to discern why this happens. Are the young women directly discouraged by the presence of the high-achieving young men? Or do teachers reallocate their attention in a way that harms the prospects of the young women? So far, it is unclear, although separate evidence shows that stereotypes can increase gender gaps in self-confidence.
The bright news in this study is that when girls in the bottom half of the measured ability distribution are exposed to high-achieving girls, their chances of attaining a bachelor’s degree rise. Obviously, this is an argument for all-girl schools, although the researchers do not evaluate that option. Still, even if that conclusion were justified, most nations, including the US, do not have a predominance of all-girl or all-women schools, and this may challenge why they are moving in the opposite direction.
In New Zealand, we also encounter students, both male and female and across ethnicities, without sufficient confidence in their abilities. However, we are fortunate to have many all-girls schools. And for girls, regardless of anything else, the research indicates that all girls’ schools are much more likely to develop their confidence and ensure their future success.
(Bloomberg, 2 May 2019)