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Women, men, and academic performance in science and engineering: The gender difference in undergraduate grade point averages (Sonnert & Fox 2012)

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Sonnert, G., & Fox, M. (2012). Women, men, and academic performance in science and engineering: The gender difference in undergraduate grade point averages. Journal of Higher Education, 83(1), 73-101.


  • The study tested a hypothesis that women have higher undergraduate grade point averages (GPAs) than their male peers (referred to as a GPA advantage), and that the difference is most pronounced in STEM fields with fewer female students and fewer female faculty members. In addition, the authors tested a second hypothesis that women’s GPA advantage was driven by institution type, with larger advantages existing at institutions offering specific programs supporting women in science and engineering, compared with institutions without such programs.
  • The authors used data from the Integrated Postsecondary Data System and from a survey of 499 university and college registrars in the United States to examine the academic performance of undergraduate students in biology, the physical sciences, and engineering from 1984 to 2000. They used regression models to compare the GPAs of male and female students over time both across and within the three fields, controlling for the percentage of female majors, degree recipients, and faculty within each field at each institution in a given year.
  • The study found that women’s GPAs across the three fields were, on average, 0.1 points (on a 4.0-point scale) higher than men’s during the study period. The study also found that in the physical sciences field, the percentage of female degree recipients was significantly associated with women’s GPA advantage—when more women earned degrees in physical sciences, the GPA advantaged diminished; however, this finding did not hold in the biology or engineering fields.
  • The study found that the strongest predictor of women’s GPA advantage across fields was the type of institution, with a larger advantage occurring at nonresearch institutions compared with research institutions. In addition, the study found that at nonresearch institutions with programs specifically supporting women in science and engineering, women’s GPA advantage was even larger.

Reviewed by CLEAR

September 2015