NBER study links gender gap, mentorship opportunities

Slate fronts an important piece on research into the gender gap and its effects on (and from) business, economics, and education:

Of course, female mentorship is only one strand of a complex web of explanations—from aptitude to temperament to societal discrimination—for the gender gap in science and elsewhere. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper on gender and academic achievement at the U.S. Air Force Academy, however, finds that the importance of female mentors may be even more powerful than previously thought. The study, by University of California-Davis economists Scott Carrell and Marianne Page and their colleague James West at the Air Force Academy, finds that replacing a male instructor with a female one has such a strong effect on female achievement as to erase the gender gap entirely.

The article goes on to note that the rigidity of the Air Force Academy provides a useful research environment for such comparisons.  Now, think about correlation and causation when you read this bit:

The authors found that women on average obtain scores that are 0.15 grade points lower (half the difference between an A and an A-) than their male classmates, even after accounting for students’ SAT scores. The gap in performance was widest for women taught by men. When a female instructor was put at the front of the classroom, nearly two-thirds of the grade point gender gap evaporated. (It was also the case that men performed better when taught by other men, but the difference was far less substantial.) The authors persuasively demonstrate that the overall male-female performance difference is due in large part to the fact that men dominate the Air Force Academy science faculty (as is the case in most schools), with only 23 percent of courses taught by women.

This is an illuminating set of findings that ends where most research ends:  more research is necessary.  I wouldn’t start building policy on the study’s findings just yet, but it does seem like an unusually helpful leap forward.


3 responses to “NBER study links gender gap, mentorship opportunities

  1. Work being done by folks at the Univ of Georgia (Barry Bozeman, Vicky Wilkins, Larry O’Toole) plus Ken Meier at Texas A&M, and a host of other associated people, have looked at mentorship issues and gender in public orgs. It is helpful that more folks are doing this research, and it is nowhere near complete.

  2. Pingback: Week in Public Organizations, 7Jun2009 « PublicOrgTheory

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