Gender Differences: Research Findings (page 4)
Researchers have identified a number of differences in the physical, cognitive, personal, and social domains.
Physical Activity and Motor Skills
Boys are temperamentally predisposed to be more active than girls. Thus, they have more trouble sitting still for long periods, are less likely to enjoy reading (a decidedly sedentary activity), and are more apt to pose classroom discipline problems (W. O. Eaton & Enns, 1986; B. A. Freedman, 2003; Gay, 2006). Before puberty, boys and girls seem to have similar potential for physical and psychomotor growth, although girls have a slight edge in fine motor skills (e.g., writing numbers and letters). Overall, however, boys develop their physical and motor skills more, perhaps through participation in organized sports. After puberty, boys have a biological advantage in height and muscular strength—that is, they’re taller and, because of increased levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, they’re stronger (Halpern, 2006; Hyde, 2005; J. R. Thomas & French, 1985).
Such differences are hardly justification for favoring either gender when enhancing students’ physical fitness, of course. Physical education curricula and sports programs should provide equal opportunities for boys and girls to maximize their physical well-being and athletic skills.
Boys tend to develop their physical skills more than girls, often through organized sports. When a second-grade teacher asked her students to create self-portraits, 8-year-old Andrew dressed himself as a basketball player.
Cognitive and Academic Abilities
On average, boys and girls perform similarly on tests of general intelligence, in part because people who construct the tests eliminate items that favor one group or the other (Halpern & LaMay, 2000). Researchers sometimes do find differences in more specific cognitive abilities, however. The most consistently observed gender difference is in visual-spatial ability, the ability to imagine and mentally manipulate two- and three-dimensional figures.
Study after study has found that, on average, males do better at such visual-spatial tasks than females. In contrast, females seem to have the advantage in some, but not all, verbal skills; for instance, girls have, on average, larger vocabularies and can more quickly identify the words they need to express their thoughts (Halpern, 2004, 2006; Halpern & LaMay, 2000; Lippa, 2002). However, most gender differences in specific cognitive abilities tend to be quite small, with considerable overlap between the two groups (e.g., see Figure 4.1). In addition, boys often show greater variability in cognitive abilities than girls do, causing more boys than girls to appear at the extreme upper and lower ends of the population (Feingold, 1992; Halpern & LaMay, 2000; Hedges & Nowell, 1995).
Even though ability levels may be similar, girls consistently earn higher grades in school (Halpern & LaMay, 2000; Wigfield et al., 1996). But if achievement is measured by achievement tests rather than grades, research findings are inconsistent. When differences are found, girls typically have an advantage in reading and writing, and after puberty boys tend to have the upper hand in mathematical problem solving (Halpern, 2006; Halpern & LaMay, 2000; Hedges & Nowell, 1995; Penner, 2003).
Not only are gender differences in visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical performance quite small, but some researchers have found them to be getting smaller in recent years. In other words, boys and girls are becoming increasingly similar in their academic performance (Eisenberg et al., 1996; Gustafsson & Undheim, 1996; Spelke, 2005). Thus, in general we should expect boys and girls to have similar academic aptitudes for different subject areas.
Motivation in Academic Activities
On average, girls are more concerned about doing well in school: They are more engaged in classroom activities, work more diligently on school assignments, and are more likely to graduate from high school (Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Halpern, 1992, 2006; H. M. Marks, 2000; McCall, 1994). Furthermore, girls are more interested in getting a college education than boys are, and in many countries more females than males do go to college (Binns, Steinberg, Amorosi, & Cuevas, 1997; Halpern, 2006). However, this eagerness to achieve academically leads girls to prefer tasks at which they know they can succeed, and some find failure devastating. Boys are more willing to take on academic challenges and risks and are more likely to take their failures in stride (Dweck, 2000; Yu, Elder, & Urdan, 1995).
Sense of Self
Beginning in the upper elementary or middle school grades, boys appear to have a slightly more positive overall sense of self than girls do. This gender difference appears to be partly due to boys’ tendency to overestimate their abilities and possibly also to girls’ tendency to underestimate theirs (Bornholt, Goodnow, & Cooney, 1994; D. A. Cole, Martin, Peeke, Seroczynski, & Fier, 1999; Harter, 1999; Pajares & Valiante, 1999). The difference may also be partly the result of how students judge their physical appearance. As noted in Chapter 3, physical appearance is often an important factor in students’ sense of self, and beginning at puberty, boys rate their physical appearance more favorably than girls do (D. A. Cole et al., 2001; Harter, 1999; R. M. Ryan & Kuczkowski, 1994).
In adolescence, too, boys’ and girls’ self-perceptions tend to be consistent with stereotypes about what males and females are good at. Boys tend to rate themselves more highly in mathematics and sports, whereas girls tend to rate themselves more highly in reading and social studies. Such differences in self-perceptions persist even when boys’ and girls’ actual ability levels are equal (D. A. Cole et al., 2001; Herbert & Stipek, 2005; Wigfield et al., 2006).
Interpersonal Behaviors and Relationships
Boys and girls interact with peers in distinctly different ways. One of the most consistently observed gender differences involves aggression. In early childhood and throughout the elementary and secondary school years, boys are more physically aggressive than girls (Lippa, 2002; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1998). This gender difference is especially large for unprovoked aggression. For example, boys are more likely than girls to bully peers for no apparent reason (Lippa, 2002; Pellegrini, 2002). However, girls can be equally aggressive in a nonphysical way. As noted in Chapter 3, girls are more apt to engage in relational aggression, behavior that adversely affects interpersonal relationships—for instance, spreading rumors or snubbing peers (Crick et al., 2002; D. C. French et al., 2002). Female age-mates are often quite hurt—sometimes devastated—by such unkind remarks and actions (Rudolph et al., 2005).
Consistent differences are also seen in boys’ and girls’ interpersonal activities and relationships. Boys tend to hang out in relatively large groups that engage in rough-and-tumble play, organized group games, and physical risk-taking activities (Maccoby, 2002; Pellegrini, Kato, Blatchford, & Baines, 2002). They enjoy competition and can be fairly assertive in their efforts to achieve individual and group goals (Benenson et al., 2002; Eisenberg et al., 1996; Maccoby, 2002). Especially as they get older, they prefer keeping some personal space between themselves and their friends; for some boys this appears to be a way of affirming their heterosexuality. And boys may often try to hide their true emotions in social situations (Eisenberg et al., 1996; Lippa, 2002; K. M. Williams, 2001a). For instance, in the “Emotions” video clip in the Ormrod Teacher Prep Course, 15-year-old Greg responds to the question “What are some things that kids do when they’re sad?” by saying, “Cry . . . if you’re a guy, you don’t show it.”
Whereas boys are apt to be competitive, girls are apt to be more affiliative and cooperative. Thus, they tend to form closer relationships with their teachers and to achieve at higher levels when classroom activities involve cooperation rather than competition (Inglehart, Brown, & Vida, 1994; Pianta, 2006). Girls also seem to be more attuned to others’ mental states and more sensitive to the subtle, nonverbal messages—the body language—that others communicate (Bosacki, 2000; Deaux, 1984). Girls spend much of their leisure time with one or two close friends, with whom they may share their innermost thoughts and feelings (Block, 1983; Eisenberg et al., 1996; A. J. Rose, 2002). They tend to be concerned about maintaining group harmony and may subordinate their own wishes to those of others (Benenson et al., 2002; Rudolph et al., 2005). In the “Friendships” video clip in the Ormrod Teacher Prep Course, notice how 8-year-old Kate talks about compromise and working out conflicts with friends, whereas 13-year-old Ryan and 17-year-old Paul are more apt to deal with conflict by “just forget[ting] about it.” In fact, Paul specifically mentions a gender difference in conflict resolution strategies:
Normally with, like, my guy friends, we just get over it. There’s no working it out, you just . . . like, “Fine, whatever,” you know? And we get over it. Girlfriends, you gotta talk to them and work it out slowly. Apologize for doing whatever you did wrong. There’s a whole process.
As mentioned earlier, boys are more likely to misbehave in class, and in general, they are more active in class (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998; Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Boys talk more and ask more questions, sometimes without waiting to be called on. They also tend to dominate small-group discussions and work sessions. Girls are more reticent classroom participants. They are less likely to publicly volunteer ideas and ask questions, perhaps for fear of looking stupid or perhaps because they worry that looking too smart will reduce their popularity (Jovanovic & King, 1998; Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Théberge, 1994). If girls do have something to say, they typically wait until they are called on (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
When boys and girls are asked to work together, boys take a more active role than girls and may ignore girls’ ideas and requests (Eccles, 1989; Harter, 1999; Jovanovic & King, 1998). When paired in a science lab, for example, boys handle the equipment and perform experiments while girls watch or take notes. When paired in a computer lab, boys work on the computers while girls sit back and observe (Arenz & Lee, 1990). Thus, it may sometimes be beneficial to group girls with girls and boys with boys, to ensure that girls participate actively in classroom activities (Kahle & Lakes, 1983; MacLean, Sasse, Keating, Stewart, & Miller, 1995). Girls are more likely to express their opinions in small-group discussions (Théberge, 1994) and are also more apt to assume the role of leader in same-sex groups, thereby developing valuable leadership skills (Fennema, 1987).
Historically, boys have had more ambitious career aspirations than girls have (Deaux, 1984; Lueptow, 1984). In recent years many girls—especially those in Western countries—have also begun to set their sights on challenging professions (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001; Lapan, Tucker, Kim, & Kosciulek, 2003). Often, however, boys and girls alike focus on careers that are stereotypically “appropriate” for their gender, in part because they have greater self-confidence about their ability to succeed in such careers (Bandura et al., 2001; Liben, Bigler, & Krogh, 2002; Olneck, 1995).
Some gender differences are especially prevalent for particular age-groups. identifies differences you are apt to see at various grade levels and offers relevant classroom strategies.
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