The Gender Gap in Good Habits

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman have a study in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, reporting on self-discipline and the gender gap. Some excerpts:

"Why do girls get better grades than boys? Throughout elementary, middle and high school, girls earn higher grades than boys in all major subjects, including math and science. . . . However, girls do not have higher IQs, and they score lower on some (but not all) standardized tests. . . .

[In a study of eighth-graders at one middle school], girls outperformed boys in every course subject, including both basic and advanced math. In contrast, gender differences favoring girls on a standardized achievement test were more modest and not statistically significant. . . .

[Girls in the study did better on self-discipline measures.] Consistent with this finding, girls started their homework earlier in the day and spent almost twice as much time completing it. . . . Whereas prior studies have highlighted factors that favor boys on standardized tests, the current investigation suggests a dimension of greater real-world significance on which girls surpass boys. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled 'Girls Edge Boys at the Head of the Class' reported that local female valedictorians outnumbered male valedictorians nearly 2 to 1. . . .

If female students earn higher grades than male students at every grade level through college, why do more men than women earn medical, law, and other first-professional degrees? . . . And why do men earn higher salaries than women in equivalent occupations? . . . [One researcher] concluded that relative to gifted men, gifted women have lower aspirations, fewer mentors, more pressure to assume family responsibilities and lower self-esteem. There is also experimental evidence suggesting that women are not as motivated as men in competitive, winner-take-all environments. . . .

Thus the fact that men enjoy greater professional success than women does not necessarily imply that gender differences in self-discipline diminish or reverse with age. Indeed, it seems at least plausible that women are more self-disciplined than men, but that beyond college, other psychological, social, and cultural factors swamp the self-discipline edge."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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