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Exploration Of Differences In Male And Female Students Over A Four Year Period: Does The Data Indicate Support For The Gender Similarity Hypothesis?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Educational Research

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.612.1 - 14.612.9



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Paper Authors

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Kenneth Reid Ohio Northern University

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P.K. Imbrie Purdue University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Exploration of Differences in Male and Female Students over a Four Year Period: Does the Data Indicate Support for the Gender Similarity Hypothesis?


First-year, Freshman, Retention, Gender


Engineering programs continue to see exceptionally low female enrollment. Enrollment in engineering programs is around 20% nationwide, with enrollment in electrical and mechanical engineering around 15%. Other traditionally difficult majors such as medicine and law have seen an increase in female enrollment to around 50% over the past decades, but this trend has not been seen in engineering1. A number of reasons have been suggested, including a lack of female faculty in engineering programs, lack of popular media attention towards engineering (as opposed to law and medicine) and a general lack of understanding among students and teachers of engineering during the high school years.

As female enrollment in advanced mathematics in high school has increased, the mathematical performance gap seen in previous decades has disappeared, disproving theories of gender disparity in cognitive ability prevalent through the 1970s. Hyde2 describes stark differences in math performance prior to 1973 which have decreased since 1974; further results showed that the differences had largely disappeared by 20083. Hyde’s Gender Similarity Hypothesis4, theorizes most psychological gender differences are small or trivial, and in many cases, remaining differences are decreasing. Some areas where differences were found include self perception of some leadership characteristics and self perception of mathematical ability in context: i.e., in situations where a difference in performance in mathematics was “expected”. When specific expectations were not mentioned, no differences in performance were found.

This study will analyze four years of student self report data collected prior to the beginning of the first year of study to answer the following research questions:

- To what extent do the data collected for this study support the Gender Similarity Hypothesis?

- For characteristics which show a difference, is there evidence that these differences are decreasing over this four year period?


Prior to the 1980’s, theories that male students were superior to female students in mathematical ability were widely accepted. For example, in 1974, Maccoby and Jacklin5 wrote “Boys excel in mathematical ability” under the heading “Sex Differences That Are Fairly Well Established.” They state that, after the age of 12-13 years, boys’ mathematical skills increase faster than girls, and not entirely as a function of the number of math courses taken.

Reid, K., & Imbrie, P. (2009, June), Exploration Of Differences In Male And Female Students Over A Four Year Period: Does The Data Indicate Support For The Gender Similarity Hypothesis? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5066

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