Research shows girls benefit from single-sex environments

In a learning environment that is free from gender discrimination, girls achieve greater academic success and are more confident.

• Professor Alison Booth, Public Policy Fellow at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, recently wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that one hour a week of single-sex education benefits girls and that “the evidence is gathering that women in single-gender classes benefit, and they benefit significantly” (Booth, 2014).

• An experiment undertaken at Essex University, a co-educational university in the UK, by Booth and her British colleagues found that girls randomly assigned to all-female classes in their first year were 7% more likely to pass their introductory economics course than girls in co-ed classes. They also scored 8% higher on their final grade and 10% higher in their required second-year courses, despite only attending single-sex classes in their first year (Booth, Cardona-Sosa & Nolen, 2013, p. 3).

• An Australian study has found that girls gain confidence in Information Technology (IT) in single-sex classes. The four-year study, which ran in seven co-ed and three girls-only schools, found that 45% of girls made an unprompted positive comment about their experiences in single-sex IT classes. Feedback from the girls included that girls-only classes were more conducive to learning because boys disrupt classes; they were more willing to ask for help without boys being present; they were more confident and not afraid to try things out; and that in co-ed classes, boys put them down when they were trying to do something or express an idea (Fisher, Lang & Forgasz, 2015).

• Andrew Hill of the University of South California has found that opposite gender friends have a negative impact on academic achievement. His research showed that students aged 16 and over who had higher numbers of opposite gender friends had lower grades across all subjects (Hill, 2015, p. 148) and were less likely to graduate from high school or attend college (p. 173). Students with higher numbers of opposite gender friends had more difficulties getting along with their teachers (p. 148) and were more likely to be in a romantic relationship, which “may reduce both the quality and quantity of homework and studying”, as well as being “distracting in the classroom” (p. 171). Hill’s research also found that in students aged under 16, grades in mathematics and science were negatively impacted by the effect of opposite gender friends, and that girls may therefore benefit from single-sex classes in these subjects (p. 168).

• A 2012 study by Hyunjoon Park, Jere Behrman and Jaesung Choi found that in South Korea — where students were randomly assigned to single-sex and co-educational high schools until 2009 — “high school female seniors who attend all-girls schools show significantly higher mean scores than their peers who attend coeducational schools” (p. 19). In addition, college attendance data demonstrated that “the four-year college attendance rate for female graduates is 3.1 percentage points higher for all-girls schools than for coeducational schools” (p. 20). The advantage of “all-girls schools over coeducational schools in sending female students to four-year colleges is fairly substantial…female students from all-girls schools are less likely to attend two-year junior colleges” (p. 21).

• Overall, Park, Behrman and Choi found that “single-sex schools are causally linked with both college entrance exam scores and college-attendance rates for both boys and girls” (p. 23). They concluded that “the positive effects of single-sex schools remain substantial, even after taking into account various school-level variables such as teacher quality, the student-teacher ratio, the proportion of students receiving lunch support, and whether the schools are public or private” (p. 1).

• A 2012 PhD thesis by Dana Diaconu concluded that girls from Hong Kong and New Zealand “seemed to have benefited more from single-sex education than coeducation” (p. 248). Diaconu examined the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) databases for 1995, 1999 and 2003, finding that the advantage of Hong Kong girls from single-sex schools in TIMSS 2003 in science scores “remained statistically significant … even after accounting for differences in student background and school characteristics” (p. 248).

• Bradley, in her American PhD dissertation investigating single-sex education and its impact on academic achievement, concluded that “the single-sex environment provides females with the best opportunity for academic achievement” (Bradley, 2009, p. 119).

• Belfi et al. stated that “single-sex classes are advantageous for girls’ school well-being and academic self-concept” (Belfi, 2011, p. 2).

• “Girls in single-sex schools perform better academically than their counterparts in coeducational schools, after holding constant measures of selection, background, peers and school factors” (Cabezas, 2010, p. 227).

• Single-sex schooling strengthens female students’ self-confidence and self-assessment of their mathematics skills. “Single-sex schooling thus has profound implications for human capital formation and the mind-set of female students” (Eisenkopf et al., 2011, p. 1).