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 re


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