Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – Teenage girls do worse in their education, careers and social lives when they have more high-achieving boys in their classes, according to a new study by Cornell University.

Teenage girls who have greater exposure to boys who do well academically do worse in math and science and are less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees. In the long term, they are less likely to work and more likely to have a child before they turn 18, the research suggests.

Boys, on the other hand, are not affected by high achievers of either gender, according to co-author and professor of economics, Eleanora Patacchini.

“We do find some indication that these girls seem to have lower self-confidence and are more engaged in risky behavior, even including teenage pregnancy,” she said. “There seems to be something going on in terms of lowering their aspirations.”

According to the study, the effect was most pronounced for girls with lower abilities and with at least one college-educated parent. These girls are more likely to complete vocational or associate degrees, rather than a bachelor’s degree.

On the other hand, girls who had lower ability and who did not have a college-educated parent, but went to a higher quality school, were more likely to get bachelor’s degrees if they were exposed to high-achieving female peers.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of students in grades 7-12. The survey examined data from students at a representative set of 132 schools in the U.S. beginning in the 1994-95 school year. Students answered questions about their gender, age, race, parents’ education level, academic performance, and risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, unprotected sex and criminal behavior. They took a similar survey several years later.

In the paper, researchers presented a potential recommendation: place an equal number of high-achieving girls and high-achieving boys in a given grade.

The working paper, “Girls, Boys and High-Achievers,” was issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Funding for the research came from the CV Starr Center.

For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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Journal Link: National Bureau of Economic Research