Self-Discipline Gives Girls the Edge: Gender in Self-Discipline, Grades, and Achievement Test Scores

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Do girls achieve better than boys when it comes to self-discipline, grades and achievement?

Using the same data as in this study, the idea that girls have higher average levels of self-discipline than boys were tested and confirmed.

Adolescent girls were found to have 5 to 20% more self-control than adolescent boys, explaining in part why they do better than boys in school. In this study, the women had, on average, a 14% higher GPA than the men.

Although this study raises the possibility that adolescent girls have more self-control than adolescent boys, many questions remain:

Is the difference biological, or environmental?

How long does the difference persist? Into adulthood? Or is this merely a case of girls maturing ahead of boys, suggesting that over time the gap should diminish?

If the difference is environmental, can the effects be transferred to boys?

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Study Details

Hypothesis: Women have more self-discipline than men, and this difference explains part of the reason why women have higher GPAs than men.

Method: Two cohorts of eight-grade students (n = 304) from a magnet school in a NE city were assessed at two periods – during the first semester of their academic year, and seven months later.

Measures: Several measures of self-discipline and one measure of IQ was compared against several measures of academic performance.

self-control, impulsiveness, and discounting rate questionnaire and IQ test were given to the students. For the second cohort, a less theoretical test of self-control and discounting was given, the delay choice task.

Self-Control, observer-report questionnaire was given to both parents and homeroom teachers.

Academic performance was assessed using the following measures: the GPA of their first semester, their final GPA for the year seven months later, their score on a standardized achievement test (also several months later), their selection to a charter high-school, how many hours they spent doing homework and watching TV, how often they were absent, and the time of day they began doing their homework.

Results: The hypothesis was partially confirmed.

As expected, women had higher GPAs and greater self-discipline than men. A mediation analyses suggested that the gender differences in self-discipline partially explained the female advantage in GPA.

Do girls achieve better than boys when it comes to self-discipline, grades and achievement?

Concerns: The effect sizes were statistically significant but still small (e.g. the mean difference between female and male scores was less than 10%). The sample size was small.

Questions: Why did women have greater self-control? Why doesn’t the higher GPA average among females translate into increased performance on standardized tests and income? After controlling for self-esteem, reduced competitive drive, societal pressures to raise a family, etc… would self-discipline predict increased income, or at least some other measure of increased job performance? Does the gender discrepancy in self-discipline persist into adulthood? At what point does increased self-discipline start to reach diminishing returns?

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Duckworth, A. L. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Self-discipline gives girls the edge: Gender differences in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 198-208.


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