Women get better grades but fewer graduate degrees

Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 29, 2003

Girls are generally better students than boys, according to a recent study that has momentarily settled a major skirmish in the battle of the sexes.

A study that involved 42 industrialized countries, including the United States, found that girls are better readers than boys and tend to get better grades. The study was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The study reported that three out five National Honors Society members are girls, and that girls outnumber boys 124 to 100 in advanced placement courses.

In 2000, 44 percent of girls taking the SAT reported an A average, while 35 percent of boys reported the same. In addition, in 39 out of the 42 industrialized countries involved in the study, girls earned more university degrees than men. At the University, 51 percent of the students that received undergraduate degrees in 2002 were female.

While women outnumber men in number of bachelor's degrees obtained, men still earn more post-undergraduate degrees than women. In 2002, 56 percent of graduate degree conferrals and 54 percent of professional degrees went to men.

"There remains a pipeline issue, for as you go into higher levels of education, you see fewer levels of female degree candidates. So, while we might say that girls and women are highly achieving, we examine whether women are being afforded the same access to higher education as men are," said Jeanne Miller, a librarian at the Center for the Education of Women.

The University's research coincides with this study, said Pamela Davis-Kean, assistant research scientist for Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

"Our research consistently shows that girls outperform boys grade-wise in schools," Davis-Kean said.

The study released by OECD cited girls' strength in reading - but University research shows that girls also do noticeably better than boys in math and science, a claim that has long been disputed.

"We have shown that girls' math grades at their junior year in high school are better than that of their male counterparts," Davis-Kean said.

"If you actually look at SAT scores, men do better, but there has been some theory showing that there's a restricted range for men who take it. The higher achieving boys take it. The wide range of girls (both high- and low-achieving) that take the test bring the overall mean down," she added.

Davis-Kean, who works on the Gender Achievement Research Program at ISR, added that women from all achievement levels strive to enter higher education, while only the most accomplished boys go to college. Men, on average, have a greater opportunity of getting jobs without a college degree - in fields such as mechanics and construction.

Although the study did not compare women and boys' mathematical and scientific skills, University researchers and administrators in gender issues expressed both concern and hope for women in math and science. In science and engineering, the pipeline effect is especially noticeable. In 2002, the University's engineering program conferred 14 percent of its doctoral degrees to women and 24 percent of its masters' degrees.

"Historically, women took fewer math classes, but that's changing now, which is good. Then, they can go on to be math and science majors. And also historically, women have not done so well on the math portion of the SAT, but that is also changing. Women are catching up," said Cinda-Sue Davis, director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program.

"We work with women in the elementary and high schools. We have a large K-12 outreach program, and we encourage women to go into science and engineering fields," Davis added.

But some students rejected the claim that scholastic aptitude is a gender-related issue.

"I think that everybody works as hard as they want to. It all depends on your individual aptitude, so it's not gender-specific," Business School junior Yanru Chen said.

Evita Nedelkoska, vice president of the Society of Women Engineers, agreed with this claim.

"I personally don't feel that it's gender-specific. I definitely see girls who feel the need to prove themselves, because the spotlight is on us. There are girls that I see who work really hard, but it might just be their own personal nature," Nedelkoska said. "A lot of the girls who go into engineering are confident, having ambition to enter a male-dominated field. Going against those odds, I think, says a lot about the character of women in science and engineering."

LSA sophomore Adam Hogan agreed that academic achievement and ambition are more personal than gender-related.

"I think it depends on the person. I can see that women may have added pressure, but I wouldn't say that I support (the idea). And achievement changes from person to person, even day to day," Hogan said.