The Mark of a Woman's Record: Gender and Academic Performance in Hiring

Academic achievement (grade point average, or GPA) has relatively no impact on the likelihood of men being hired in entry-level jobs whereas women are most hirable if their resumes portray moderate academic achievement. Moderate academic achievement is associated with increased likeability among women candidates. 


Recent findings that girls and women outperform boys and men across all fields of education partially explain their superior early achievement in school. Throughout high school and college, female students generally earn better grades than male students and are rated as having better competencies and skills. Better grades in high school lead women to be better prepared for college academics, and therefore more likely to enroll in and complete higher education degrees.

However, there has been little research on whether women’s superior academic performance benefits them in the job market. Specifically, do women’s higher grade point averages (GPAs) lead to better job prospects as college graduates? Through an audit study that used a randomized experimental design, 2,106 fabricated job applications were submitted to 1,053 real, entry-level job openings. The study investigated how women’s and men’s academic performance translated into success in the labor market by assessing hiring rates for women versus men at varying GPA levels. This question is particularly relevant for female job-seekers, who have been shown to be routinely perceived as less competent, less committed, and less likeable than men in work environments. To shed additional light on its findings, the study also included a survey of 261 hiring decision-makers, who were asked to give feedback on how they assessed which candidates they would most likely recommend for hire.  


Academic achievement (measured using grade point average, or GPA) had no statistically significant impact on men’s employability.

  • Men were called for interviews at approximately the same rate regardless of the GPA indicated on their resumes. In other words, the callback rate for men with the lowest GPAs was similar to the callback rate for men with moderate or high GPAs.
  • However, for men who majored in math, those with the highest GPAs were most likely to receive a callback for an interview.

Women were most hirable if they were perceived as academically moderate-achieving, i.e., if their resumes indicated moderate college GPAs.

  • Moderate-achieving women were called back more than low and high-achieving women. In other words, women were penalized for having GPAs that were too high and too low.

These differences in perceptions about women’s and men’s academic achievement created a gender gap in hiring, particularly for jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

  • Because high-achieving women were penalized for being “too smart,” high-achieving men were almost twice as likely to be called back than high-achieving women, and low-achieving men (with a C+ average) were called back at about the same rate as high-achieving women (with an A average).
  • High-achieving women were particularly penalized when they majored in math. Men who majored in math and whose resumes showed high GPAs were three times more likely to be called back than women math majors with high GPAs.

The author suggests that the difference in perceptions about women’s and men’s academic achievement arises from gendered expectations.

  • Survey results showed that employers most valued competence and commitment in male applicants and likeability and social skills in female applicants. Employers were 2.5 times more likely to mention likeability when assessing a female applicant than when assessing a male applicant.

In this study, the researcher submitted 2,106 job applications to 1,053 entry-level job openings using a leading national job-search website. The job openings were selected from the five major regions of the United States (Midwest, Northeast, Southwest, South, and West), and two job applications were submitted to each job opening. The GPA, gender, and college major of job applicants were randomized by the researcher. Gender was signaled using first names, which were selected from the top 5 baby names in each region in the mid-1990s (the period during which recent college graduates would have been born). Surnames were randomly assigned based on region so as not to specifically signal a particular race or ethnicity. Achievement was signaled using grade point averages (GPAs), assigned by a random number generator, ranging from 2.50 (C+ to B-average) to 3.95 (A average). Each applicant’s major was listed as English, mathematics, or business, representing fields that are most often perceived as female-dominated, male-dominated, and gender-neutral, respectively. Resume templates were randomly assigned to each application and were based on templates from guidebooks for first-time jobseekers. Applicants within each region were shown to be attending the same large, public, and moderately selective university, ranked between 50th and 100th by the U.S. News and World Report. These moderately-selective universities were used for the study so as not to contribute to other signals about applicants’ exceptionally high or poor achievement in their high school years. Resumes were linked to phone numbers that had a female or male voice in the answering machine greeting, where employers could leave a message for callback information.

The researcher measured the rate at which applicants of different types received callbacks for interviews. This method, also known as a “resume audit study,” was preferable to an observational study (because it allowed control of several factors) as well as a laboratory experiment (because it was more directly relevant to real world conditions). In order to better understand the numerical results of this resume audit study—i.e., to understand why employers chose as they did—the researcher conducted an additional online survey, in which 261 hiring decision-makers in various companies were asked to give closed- and open-ended feedback about how they would assess the likelihood of recommending each candidate for hire.  

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