Academic Disparities and Health: How Gender-based Disparities in Schools Relate to Boys' and Girls’ Health

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology



Recent research reveals that, although girls encounter some barriers in school (e.g., in science and math), on balance, boys perform worse academically. Moreover, other research has identified a correlation between exposure to a context characterized by large disparities in performance or resources and a range of negative outcomes, including negative health and well-being, among members of lower status groups.


Building on these literatures, the present research tests the relationship between gender disparities in academic performance within a school and students' health outcomes. Specifically, we investigated whether boys had worse health when they attended schools where there was a greater disparity between boys' and girls’ academic performance.


We tested this hypothesis in two different samples with different health outcomes. In a sample of healthy eighth graders (Study 1; 159 girls and 81 boys), we assessed two indices of metabolic syndrome, and in a sample of children with asthma (Study 2; 122 girls and 153 boys), we assessed immune function (Th1 and Th2 cytokine production) and self-reported symptoms. Participants in both samples also reported the name of the school that they attended so that we could access publicly available information about the percentage of girls and the percentage of boys in each school who met expectations for their grade level on standardized tests.


In both samples, the greater the gap in a school between the percentage of girls and the percentage of boys who met expectations for their grade level on standardized tests, the worse boys’ health. This pattern did not emerge among girls.


Results thus highlight the negative health correlates of academic disparities among members of lower-performing groups.

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