Gender Differences in the Academic Ethic and Academic Achievement *

By Chee, Kyong Hee; Pino, Nathan W. et al. | College Student Journal, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in the Academic Ethic and Academic Achievement *


Chee, Kyong Hee, Pino, Nathan W., Smith, William L., College Student Journal


This paper investigates gender differences in the academic ethic and academic achievement among college students. We used survey data collected from students at a medium-size state university in the Southeast. Results of our analysis indicate that women are more likely to possess an academic ethic than men and that women also tend to have higher GPAs. Furthermore, regression analysis with GPA as the dependent variable revealed differences between men and women in terms of significant predictors. For women, active participation in student clubs or groups was positively associated with GPA. For men, employment was negatively related with GPA. We used Coleman's (1988) concept of social capital, Chodorow's (1978) psychoanalytic feminist theory, and Gilligan's (1982) theory of women's development in an attempt to build a potential theoretical explanation for these findings and to guide future research.

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Gender differences in education persist in the United States even after several decades of intense scrutiny and policy change (Nowell and Hedges 1998; Ballantine 2001). Education is like a dual-edged sword. It has been a source of advancement, empowerment, and liberation for women, but it has also reproduced gender inequalities. Our understanding of gender differences and inequality has benefitted from the development of gender theories in the social sciences (Chafetz 1999), but educational theory and research that emphasize gender differences have received relatively limited attention (Jacobs 1996:154). There is little doubt that education serves as a key for understanding gender issues in part because it largely mirrors social relationships in society (Persell, et al. 1999:407). For example, by examining gender in higher education we learn that one's gender is related to one's educational attainment, which in turn is highly related to income. Nevertheless, scholars have not paid sufficient attention to gender issues in higher education (Jacobs 1996). Regarding gender differences in academic achievement, in particular, most of the attention has been at the elementary and secondary levels (Nowell and Hedges 1998; Hallinan 2000). This paper therefore attempts to extend the current literature by shedding light on gender differences in academic achievement among college students.

Women and men are known to differ in their college experiences and face different outcomes (Jacobs 1996). One study suggests that female college students are almost as likely to cheat as their male counterparts even though the former's ethical standards tend to be higher than those of the latter (Whitley, et al. 1999). Results from another study indicate that men are more likely to be either disengaged or highly engaged in constructive educational activities while women are more likely to fall in between these extremes into a more typical group (Hu and Kuh 2002). Gender also seems to influence what type of student groups one affiliates with. Women are more likely to be labeled as a "grind" whereas men are much more likely to be labeled as a "recreator" (Kuh, Hu, and Vesper 2000). Grinds exhibit a high level of academic effort and recreators are involved with sports and exercise. Students labeled as grinds exhibited attitudes and behaviors very similar to those who have been identified as possessing an academic ethic (see Rau and Durand 2000; Smith and Pino 2003).

In light of these findings, it is perhaps not surprising that women were found to be as academically successful as men, but what is intriguing is the fact that the former receive fewer rewards for their academic achievement later in life (Mickelson 1989). Minority and working-class students do not achieve as much as women partly because they do not anticipate higher returns from a college education, but women do even though they also experience lower returns on their college education (Mickelson 1989). One potential explanation for why women experience lower returns on their college education lies in the role of female peer groups that may perpetuate the themes of romance and popularity (Holland and Eisenhart 1990). …

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