Sex-Role Identification, Ability, and Achievement among High School Girls

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  • Sex-Role Identification, Ability, and Achievement among High School GirlsAuthor(s): Edmund G. Doherty and Cathryn CulverSource: Sociology of Education, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 1-3Published by: American Sociological AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 18:02

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  • Sex-Role Identification, Ability, and Achievement among High School Girls*


    Department of Sociology, Wayne State University


    The Menninger Foundation

    Sociology of Education 1976, Vol. 49 (January): 1-3

    This paper finds a significant relationship between a non-traditional, personal-fulfillment- ("masculine') oriented female sex-role perception and ability. With IQ controlled, however, the more non-traditional the orientation of girls' sex-role perception, the lower the academic achievement (class standing). Conversely, the more traditional the sex-role identification, the higher the class rank. Moreover, the data suggest a positive relationship between a non-tradition- al, personal-fulfillment orientation and higher educational aspirations.

    This paper examined the relationships among a sample of female high school stu- dents' academic achievement, intellectual ability, and perceptions of their own sex-role identification. Theoretically, this paper stems from Maccoby's (1972:38) conclusion that "high general intelligence [is] associated with cross-sex typing, in that the men and boys who score high are more feminine, and the women and girls more masculine, than their low-scoring counterparts", and from Horner's (1972:62) conclusion that in achievement sit- uations, such as school, female students may possess a " 'motive to avoid success,' because they anticipate or expect negative conse- quences because of success."

    If these generalizations hold, then girls with more non-traditional, extra-familial, per- sonal-fulfillment values would score higher on tests of intellectual functioning (IQ), but with IQ controlled, a non-traditional orientation would be inversely related to academic achievement. Put another way, Maccoby's re- port suggests that non-traditional girls would possess higher intellectual ability, or potential for achievement, yet from Horner's perspec- tive, such girls (with IQ controlled) would re- ceive lower grades than those with an intra-

    familial, traditionalistic orientation because of their "motive to avoid success."

    Previous literature on relationships be- tween girls' sex-role identification, ability, and actual academic achievement is sparse. Two studies report that sex-role identification is not related significantly to academic achieve- ment among females (Sundheim, 1963; Cot- tle, 1968), but these studies do not control for intelligence. To our knowledge, no study has directly tested the combined notions sug- gested by Maccoby and Horner.


    The following data were collected on 165 female students in the 10th through 12th grades of a suburban high school in a mid- western state: Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test Scores (verbal subtests); academic class rank; responses to the Inventory of Female Sex Role Values (Steinmann, 1968); age; father's occupation (a nine-category system from unskilled to high-level professional); and "realistic" as well as "ideal" post-high-school educational apsirations.

    Our measure of sex-role identification, the Inventory of Feminine Sex Role Values (IFV, was originated by Fand (1955) and used ex- tensively by Steinmann (1968) in a variety of research contexts which suggested reasonably high reliability and validity (Rappaport, Payne

    * An earlier version of this paper received help- ful comments from Constantina Safilios-Rothschild, Raye Rosen, and Robert Stein.


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    and Steinmann, 1970). On the IFV, respon- dents indicated, on a 5-point scale, the extent of their agreement or disagreement with 34 questions, 17 of which delineated an extra- familial, non-traditionalist, personal-fulfill- ment orientation toward feminine sex-role ex- pectations, and 17 which delineated a tradi- tionalistic orientation. Examples of items which state "intra-familial or traditionalistic" values are: "The greatest contribution a wife can make to her husband's progress is her con- stant and watchful encouragement"; "A woman's place is in the home." Examples of items in the "non-traditionalistic" direction are: "It is unfair that women have to give up more than men in order to have a good mar- riage"; "The greatest satisfactions in life come from what you do yourself." Although none of the sample was married, responses to the IFV were oriented toward their imagined sex- role perception within a conjugal family, rather than family of origin. A respondent who takes an equal but opposite position on each type of set would have a score of zero. Negative scores indicate an intra-familial, traditionalistic orientation; positive scores re- present a non-traditionalistic fulfillment orien- tation.

    Sample Characteristics

    Average age was 16 (S.D. = .95); average IQ score was 110 (S.D. = 12.4). Average IFV score was 1.87 (S.D. = 11.71), suggesting that the sample was slightly more oriented toward the non-traditionalistic orientation than to- ward the traditionalistic. Eleven students were not Caucasian. Protestants accounted for 109 students; 8 were Jewish; the remainder were Catholic.


    While IQ was significantly related to class rank (r = .539, p. < .01), the relationship be- tween students' perception of sex-role identi- fication and class rank was non-significant (r = .039, n.s.). However, a significant positive cor- relation was obtained between verbal IQ and IFV scores (r = .30, p. < .01), indicating that

    the more that girls perceived their sex-role identification in a non-traditionalistic, extra- familial, or personal fulfillment fashion, the higher were their verbal intelligence scores. Without implying causality, this finding fits well with Maccoby's general conclusions re- garding the correlation between intellectual functioning and sex-role perception or typing among girls.

    Next, with the effects of IQ controlled, using partial correlation techniques, a signifi- cant positive relationship between IFV scores and class rank was obtained (r = .246, p. < .01). More concretely, with the effects of IQ controlled, the more highly traditionalistic or intra-familial the girls' values, the higher the class rank; conversely, the more highly non- traditionalist or extra-familial the girls' values, or the more oriented toward personal fulfill- ment, the lower the class rank achieved in this high school setting.

    About half of the sample stated that ideal- ly they would like to pursue a college educa- tion; however, realistically, only about one- third felt that they could finish college. IFV scores were not significantly related to realis- tic aspirations (r = .122, n.s.) or to age (r = .014, n.s.). However, IFV scores were related significantly to ideal educational aspirations (r = .157, p. < .05), suggesting that the more girls endorsed non-traditionalist, personal ful- fillment sex-role perceptions, the more they would ideally envision themselves as complet- ing college.


    Within the sample studied, the results sug- gested overall that high school girls with a non-traditionalistic, extra-familial orientation may not have fully utilized their higher intel- lectual ability or potential, as reflected by their lower standing in class rank, in contrast to the higher class rank of female students with traditionalistic or intra-familial orienta- tions. Girls of higher ability with less tradi- tionalistic orientations regarding sex-role identification seem less likely to achieve suc- cess, in academic terms. How this occurs raises certain issues for social scientists.

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    According to Homer (1972:64), female students of high ability with an internalized fear of success do not want to succeed "des- pite the removal of many previous legal and educational barriers and despite the presence of more opportunities for women." This seems a rather dismal prospect.

    An examination of the school social struc- ture and processes may suggest that non- traditional girls may violate teachers' expecta- tions of appropriate feminine perceptions and behavior and may thus receive less reinforce- ment. However, these results do suggest that to the extent that girls endorsed the non- traditionalist, personal-fulfillment orienta- tion, they ideally wished to complete a college education. When realistic educational aspira- tions were considered, a directionally similar but non-significant trend was observed. Non- traditionally oriented girls tended to perceive that realistically they could accomplish a col- lege education which ideally they desired.

    In this regard, Feshbach (1969:126) has re- ported that "student teachers rate significant- ly more positive, on a number of intellectual and social dimensions, the conforming, rigid, and the dependent, passive child as compared to the flexible, nonconforming and the in- dependent, assertive child." Teachers them- selves tend as a group to be "more conform- ing, restrained, controlled, cautious, and ac- quiescent than non-teachers" (Feshbach, 1969). Such teachers may tend to reward sim- ilar female students, in an effort to reinforce what they feel is the appropriate female sex- role. Further research might examine the in- teractive effects of male and female student self-perceptions and the behaviors of both within the classroom as they relate to ability and achievement, both on grades provided by teachers and on standardized achievement ratings.

    In sum, these results suggest the need for research which takes into account not only the sex-role perceptions, ability, and achieve- ment of students (both males and females), but also parental and peer attitudes, and the attitudes of those teachers and others who deal professionally with high ability female students. High ability, independent, personal fulfillment oriented high school girls apparent-

    ly are still not provided with the inducements or opportunities and options or encourage- ment which may allow them to achieve maxi- mally both in an academic sense and possibly later in the marketplace. It would seem impor- tant that social scientists investigate further the role of the school structure and process, and particularly teachers' behaviors and atti- tudes toward high ability, non-traditionally oriented female students; if this were done, perhaps Horner's hypothesized early learned fear of success could be mitigated or reversed within the school structure.


    Cottle, T. 1968 "Family perception of sex-role identity and

    the perception of school performance." Educational and Psychological Measurement 28 (Autumn): 861-886.

    Fand, A. B. 1955 Sex-Role and Self-Concept: A Study of the

    Feminine Sex-Role as Perceived by 85 Col- lege Women for Themselves, Their Ideal Woman, the Average Woman and Men's Ideal Woman. Unpublished Ph.D. Disserta- tion, Cornell University.

    Feshbach, N. D. 1969 "Student teacher preferences for elementary

    school pupils varying in personality charac- teristics." Journal of Educational Psychol- ogy 60:126-1 32.

    Horner, M. S. 1972 "The motive to avoid success and changing

    aspirations of college women." Pp. 62-67 in J. Bardwick (ed.), Readings on the Psychol- ogy of Women. New York: Harper and Row.

    Maccoby, E. E. 1972 "Sex differences in intellectual function-

    ing." Pp. 34-44 in J. Bardwick (ed.), Read- ings on the Psychology of Women. New York: Harper and Row.

    Rappaport, A. F., D. Payne, and A. Steinmann. 1970 "Perceptual differences between married

    and single college women for the concepts of self, ideal woman, and man's ideal woman." Journal of Marriage and the Family 32 (August): 441-442.

    Steinmann, A. 1968 Manual for Interpretation of Inventory of

    Feminine Values. New York: MAFERR Foundation.

    Sundheim, B. J. 1963 "The relationship among n Achievement

    and n Affiliation, and sex-role concepts, academic grades, and curricula choice." Dis- sertation Abstracts 23:3471.

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    Article Contentsp. 1p. 2p. 3

    Issue Table of ContentsSociology of Education, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 1-96Front MatterSex-Role Identification, Ability, and Achievement among High School Girls [pp. 1-3]A Different View of the IQ-Achievement Gap [pp. 4-11]Significant-Other Influence and Aspirations [pp. 12-22]Socialization and Mobility in Educational and Early Occupational Attainment [pp. 23-33]Statistical Assumptions and Social Reality: A Critical Analysis of Achievement Models [pp. 34-40]Interpersonal Influences on Educational Aspirations: A Cross-Cultural Analysis [pp. 41-46]The Center for Interracial Cooperation: A Field Experiment [pp. 47-58]Teachers' Use of Background Knowledge to Interpret Test Scores [pp. 59-65]Reference-Group Theory and Ability Grouping: A Convergence of Sociological Theory and Educational Research [pp. 65-71]Classroom Discipline: An Exercise in the Maintenance of Social Reality [pp. 71-79]How Divisive Are Left-Wing Academics? An Australian Test [pp. 80-89]The Effects of Sociometric Location on the Adoption of an Innovation within a University Faculty [pp. 90-96]Back Matter


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