A League of Their Own: Do Single-Sex Schools Increase Girls’ Participation in the Physical Sciences?

Abstract

With the rapid shifts in the education of women in the United States, and the underrepresentation of women in fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), an issue generating much controversy is whether women may benefit more from single-sex education or coeducation. The present study surveyed 548 U.S. high-school boys and girls from single-sex and coeducational high-schools from the Midwest. Half of the participants completed a mathematics test under stereotype threat (ST) condition and half under no threat condition. Although girls in single-sex schools had higher achievement motive and self-esteem than those in coeducational schools, they were not more likely to pursue STEM careers. Overall, students in single-sex schools outperformed students from coeducational schools on the math test. Girls’ math performance was significantly higher in the ST condition than in the no threat condition.

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Acknowledgement

This study was in part supported by a summer grant from Creighton University’s Graduate School to the first author. We thank Samuel Pierre, Kunal Sualy, Kristin Jones, Maren Hankey, Katerina Anastasiou, Samantha Lewis, Samantha Brown, Hannah Grawe, Jack Kostal, and Nicolas Villanueva for their assistance with data collection and coding. We also thank the various high-schools for their participation. Preliminary data were presented at the Gender Development Conference in San Francisco, 2010, and at the International Congress of Psychology in Berlin, 2008.

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Correspondence to Isabelle D. Cherney.

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Cherney, I.D., Campbell, K.L. A League of Their Own: Do Single-Sex Schools Increase Girls’ Participation in the Physical Sciences?. Sex Roles 65, 712 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0013-6

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Keywords

  • Single-sex schools
  • Coeducational schools
  • Gender differences
  • Stereotype threat
  • Occupational choices
  • Adolescents