University, careers and leadership

Research shows that girls who attend single-sex schools are more likely to achieve well at school, be confident of their academic ability, and aspire to graduate and postgraduate study – all of which are highly advantageous in development of their careers and in achieving their leadership potential. Alumnae of girls’ schools are also more likely to enter male-dominated careers, which is advantageous for their future earning potential.

• On 13 October 2014, Professor Alison Booth, Professor of Economics and a Public Policy Fellow at the Australian National University, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that: “Females alone appear to benefit from single-gender classes and they benefit significantly. Women in all-female classes are much more likely to gain a higher degree score and to get a higher-classification degree.” Men’s outcomes, however, are unaffected by attending single-sex classes for males.

• Watson, Quatman and Edler (2002) found that girls at single-sex schools had higher real career aspirations than girls at co-educational schools. Career aspirations remained steady and high for many years among girls at single-sex schools but in co-educational schools, ideal and realistic career aspiration scores dropped significantly during the secondary years. Referring to single-sex schools, the researchers concluded that “when girls become the focal point, they rise to a greater level of development than might otherwise ordinarily be the case” (p. 333).

• A 2009 study by Linda Sax based on the UCLA Higher Education Research Freshman Study, which separated single-sex schooling from other influences including socioeconomic background and parental education, found that first-year university students who attended girls’ schools outscored their co-educational counterparts on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), with mean SAT composite scores (Verbal plus Math) from 28-43 points higher. In addition, 71% of girls from single-sex schools considered college as a prelude to graduate school, compared with 66% from co-ed schools (p. 8).

• Sax also found that graduates of single-sex schools were three times more likely than girls who attended co-ed schools to say they intended to pursue a career in engineering (4.4% vs. 1.4%) and were more confident of their ability in maths (48% rated themselves above average compared with 37% of girls from co-ed schools) and computer skills (36% rated themselves in the highest categories compared with 26% of girls from co-ed schools) (pp. 9-10).

• Sullivan, Joshi and Leonard (2010, p. 25) found that “women who had attended single-sex schools were more likely than coeducated women to gain their highest qualification by age 33 in a male-dominated field“.

• An American study exploring the effects of attending a girls’ high school on labour market outcomes found that women who attended single-sex schools “earn a 19.7% higher wage than women who attended coeducational high schools”, though this wage differential falls to 12.6% after controlling for personal characteristics and selection bias (Billger, 2007, p. 166). Nevertheless, Billger concluded that there was a “substantial” economic return for women who had attended single-sex schools (p. 181).