Studies find value of college grades less impactful in career market for females

April 17, 2018 Staff Writer

Through high school and even college, female students generally earn better grades than their male counterparts, and teachers rate them as having better competencies and skills. However, women do not benefit from their superior academics to the same degree as men when attempting to enter the labor market, according to two interrelated experimental studies.

As described in the April 2018 issue of the American Sociological Review, the studies confirm high academic achieving women in fields stereotypically associated with higher male competency experience a likability penalty in the labor market.

“With the first study, I sought to determine whether men and women college graduates receive equal job placement-related ‘pay-offs’ for equivalent levels of academic accomplishment,” said Natasha Quadlin, author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University. 

Specifically, Quadlin conducted an audit study by submitting 2,106 job applications that manipulated applicants’ GPA, gender and college major. She found that while GPA mattered little for male applicants, female applicants benefited from “moderate” achievement but not from “high” achievement.  

Applications from high-achieving men received significantly more employer responses – i.e., callbacks – than did applications from equally high-achieving women, at a rate of nearly two-to-one. And, high-achieving women were most likely to be penalized when they majored in math or STEM fields, as high-achieving men in STEM were called back nearly three times as often as their women counterparts. 

“Although universities have designed many programs to increase women’s enrollment in STEM, these findings imply that STEM achievement is unlikely to help women advance in the labor market as long as employers continue to penalize this group,” Quadlin said. “Over time, we might expect these penalties to diminish as more women enter and succeed in STEM majors. 

Quadlin’s second study partly answers the why of hiring decisions. The results of this survey experiment with hiring decision-makers suggest that these patterns result from employers having different standards for male vs. female applicants.  Specifically, employers value competence and commitment among male applicants but value perceived likability among female applicants. 

“This standard helps moderate-achieving women, who are often perceived as sociable and outgoing, but hurts high-achieving women, whose personalities are viewed more skeptically,” Quadlin said.  She suggested that achievement evokes gender-associated stereotypes “that penalize women for having good grades, creating unequal returns to academic performance at labor market entry.” 

Quadlin said her research demonstrates the many and varied penalties high-achieving women face in the entry-level labor market, as well as the gendered stereotypes that allow these penalties to persist.

“The two interrelated studies help to understand how the academic performance of men and women affects their respective chances of advancing to the interview stage,” Quadlin said. “Although women have made many advances in higher education, further change is needed for women to make comparable advances at work.”

The study can be accessed at

Equity issues for women are important to ACSA. One way to learn more is by attending the Women in School Leadership Forum, Sept. 26-28 in Newport Beach. Go to for more information.

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