“Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office”

Gender-based generalizations are almost always wrong. When they aren’t wrong, they are at least misleading, because nobody listens when you explain that you are speaking in statistics, not in absolutes. Nevertheless, generalizations can be useful aids to thinking about the experiences of women and girls as contrasted to men and boys. If you’re tempted to disagree, all you have to do is think about all those recent gender-focused situations involving politics and/or policy. With that in mind, consider this recent article in the New York Times, titled “Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office.”

Author Lisa Damour’s second paragraph outlines her thesis:

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

As the wording suggests, her tentative answer is “Yes, they do“ — an intriguing hypothesis.

Speaking statistically — speaking about the central tendency of a population rather than individuals — I am sympathetic to the hypothesis. It is certainly true that girls tend to be more conscientious than boys in school. Yes, there are scads of exceptions in both directions, but I know that almost 90% of my most conscientious students are girls even though only 50% of my overall group of students are girls. And it’s clear, in contrast, that people in the top positions across the workforce are overwhelmingly male.

As everyone knows, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Amour’s article provides some interesting explanations for why this counterintuitive correlation might exist, but they aren’t convincing. Her analysis is based on self-confidence, which is certainly higher in the male population (again, speaking in generalizations not in terms of individuals) and totally ignores societal factors. Anyway, read the article and see what you think.

Categories: Teaching & Learning