Majority Rules: Gender Composition and Sexual Norms and Behavior in High Schools

Original Research

DOI: 10.1007/s11113-017-9436-2

Cite this article as:
Harknett, K. & Cranney, S. Popul Res Policy Rev (2017). doi:10.1007/s11113-017-9436-2


Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we examine the relationship between the gender composition of high schools and sexual ideals, attitudes, and behaviors reported by 12,617 students. Theory predicts that a surplus of females in a dating market gives males greater bargaining power to achieve their underlying preference for avoiding committed relationships and engaging in casual sex. We find relationships between the gender composition of a high school and sexual norms and behaviors that depart from this theoretical prediction: In high schools in which girls outnumber boys, students report a less sexually permissive normative climate and girls report less casual sex compared with their counterparts at schools in which boys outnumber girls. Our results inform predictions about social consequences following from the feminization of school institutions.


Sex ratios Adolescent relationships Gender composition of high schools Sexual attitudes Sexual behavior Bargaining power Add Health 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Baylor UniversityWacoUSA

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