This is a re-post of an article from The Washington Post by Catherine Rempell that my co-worker sent to me. I found it super interesting. Mostly because I pretty much was that straight-A student. In elementary school. In middle school. In high school. In college. Even for most of grad school. (I’ll let you in on a secret–grad school profs curve.) My parents actually got excited when I made my first B in college.
Anyway, here you go!
A message to the nation’s women: Stop trying to be straight-A students.
No, not because you might intimidate easily emasculated future husbands. Because, by focusing so much on grades, you might be limiting your earning and learning potential.
The college majors that tend to lead to the most profitable professions are also the stingiest about awarding A’s. Science departments grade, on a four-point scale, an average of 0.4 points lower than humanities departments, according to a 2010 analysisof national grading data by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. And two new research studies suggest that women might be abandoning these lucrative disciplines precisely because they’re terrified of getting B’s.
Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, has been examining why so few women major in her field . The majority of new college grads are female, yet women receive only 29 percent of bachelor’s degreesin economics each year.
Goldin looked at how grades awarded in an introductory economics class affected the chance that a student would ultimately major in the subject. She found that the likelihood a woman would major in economics dropped steadily as her grade fell: Women who received a B in Econ 101, for example, were about half as likely as women who received A’s to stick with the discipline. The same discouragement gradient didn’t exist for men. Of Econ 101 students, men who received A’s were about equally as likely as men who received B’s to concentrate in the dismal science.
Another research project, led by Peter Arcidiacono at Duke University, is finding similar trends in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
These STEM majors, as with economics, begin with few women enrolling and end with even fewer graduating. This “leaky pipeline” has been somewhat puzzling, Arcidiacono said, because women enter college just as prepared as men in math and science. On average, women more eagerly spend time studying than men do, a trait that should theoretically attract women to STEM fields, which generally assign more homework.
Plenty has been written about whether hostility toward female students or a lack of female faculty members might be pushing women out of male-dominated majors such as computer science. Arcidiacono’s research, while preliminary, suggests that women might also value high grades more than men do and sort themselves into fields where grading curves are more lenient.
It’s not clear from the data why women might be more sensitive to grades than men are.
“Maybe women just don’t want to get things wrong,” Goldin hypothesized. “They don’t want to walk around being a B-minus student in something. They want to find something they can be an A student in. They want something where the professor will pat them on the back and say ‘You’re doing so well!’ ”
“Guys,” she added, “don’t seem to give two damns.”
So maybe the better question is: Why aren’t men scared off by rigid grading curves?
Male students could be more overconfident — effectively, college bros shrug off gentleman’s C’s (or, more often today, gentleman’s B’s) as unrepresentative of their true brilliance.
Or maybe men have their “eyes on the prize,” in Goldin’s phrasing.
U.S. college graduates with STEM and economics degrees have among the highest mediansalaries. Men might be more likely to see themselves as future breadwinners and persevere in studies that are likely to maximize their earnings — come hell or high water or B-minuses.
Of course earning potential isn’t the only — or even most — important factor in choosing a discipline. (Art History Mob, please don’t come after me, too!) Intellectual fulfillment and passion count a lot.
But I fear that women are dropping out of fields such as math and computer science not because they’ve discovered passions elsewhere but because they fear delivering imperfection in the “hard” fields that they (and potential employers) genuinely love. Remember, on net, many more women enter college intending to major in STEM or economics than exit with a degree in those fields. If women were changing their majors because they discovered new intellectual appetites, you’d expect to see greater flows into STEM fields, too.
Colleges have a role in helping women realize that quantitative fields are within their reach. Administrators might try to reduce the grading differential between humanities and STEM fields or provide better support systems for women who get discouraged.
But women must also change their myopic attitudes about the significance of grades.
Women, admirably, want to excel — and usually do, academically. We earn, on average, higher grades than men in almost every subject. (Partly, presumably, because women seem to disproportionately take classes we know we’ll do well in.) But if women want to compete with the big boys, in the disciplines and professions where men continue to dominate, we need to overcome our B-phobia. Rinse yourselves of the intoxicating waters of Lake Wobegon, ladies, and embrace meaningful mediocrity.
Catherine Rampell, a former economics reporter for the New York Times, will write a twice-weekly column for The Post.
Sooooooo….what did ya think?? Interesting, huh?? I certainly thought so! Makes ya think!
I had my 5th swim lesson with Kim today! Our swim instructor said we were making her smile that we showed so much improvement! She could tell that we had been practicing on our own! Which we have! Only one more lesson!
Caramel Filled Brownies. Pretty much enough said. They have made it into “THE” cookbook. I have made these brownies twice since I’ve lived in Madison. This is kind of a big deal. I rarely make desserts twice. Especially in such a short amount of time. There are just sooo many desserts out there! But Michael (of Michael and Allison) really enjoyed them the first time, so I made them a second time for his birthday which was back in December, but I’m just now getting around to posting the recipe. You will LOVE these. You can make your own brownie batter if you have a favorite recipe or use brownie mix if you’re running short on time! Either way they are delish!
Caramel Filled Brownies
– 2 boxes chewy fudge brownie mix
– Eggs, oil and water to prepare both mixes
– 1 large bag of fun-sized Milky Way Simply Caramel Bars, unwrapped
– 1 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
– Preheat oven to 350*. Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with flour. Set aside.
– Prepare ONE box of brownie mix according to directions. Spread evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.
– Remove from oven and top with unwrapped candy bars, spread in a single layer. Place back in the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove and lightly mash softened candy with a spatula.
– Prepare the second box of brownie mix and pour carefully over the melted candy bars, spreading evenly. Top with chocolate chips and bake for about 25 minutes (or until set).
– Remove from oven and let cool. Cut and serve.