Science, computers, and gender equity

Single-sex classes increase girls’ participation in physics, computer science, etc.

Many studies provide support for this assertion.  The largest such study was published in July 2002 by the National Foundation for Educational Research.  This study examined the course choices of 369,341 pupils from 2,954 schools in the United Kingdom, whereas single-sex high schools are widely available in the public sector.  These researchers found that girls in girls-only schools were about 40% more likely to take advanced science courses than were girls of comparable ability at coed schools.  In this respect, "being in a girls school counteracted the effect of being a girl, since girls in mixed schools [i.e. coeducational schools] were less likely to take [advanced] sciences than boys" (p. 42).  More generally, they found that girls' schools break down the distinctions between traditional "girls subjects" such as English and foreign languages and "boys subjects" such as physics and computer science (p. 43).  You can read more about this study online, and link to the NFER Web site, at

 Jamaica is another country where single-sex public schools are widely available.  In a large study of Jamaican schools, girls at single-sex high schools did significantly better in math and science than girls at coed high schools (Hamilton, 1985). In fact, the girls at single-sex high schools often outperformed the boys in math and science.  The study concluded that "the effects of sex stereotyping are more sharply apparent in the coeducational setting, for here there appears to be a stronger need to differentiate between the sexes. Thus, even if subjects such as mathematics and the sciences are technically available to girls in this type of school, they are more likely than their single-sex institutional counterparts to get the message that such subjects are unfeminine, and beyond their grasp intellectually."

Other relevant studies:

  • Lawrie and Brown surveyed 284 students ages 14 and 15.  They found that girls at all-girls schools reported enjoying math more, and found math less difficult, than girls who attended coed schools.  Girls at the all-girls schools were more than twice as likely to say that they planned to take advanced math, compared with girls at coed schools.
  • Carolyn Jackson and Ian David Smith evaluated girls’ experience in single-sex math classes for five consecutive semesters, from 5th grade through 7th grade.  Eighty percent of girls said they were more confident in the single-sex class.  Only 15% of girls said they preferred the coed format.
  • Harvey and Stables surveyed 2,300 students regarding their attitudes toward science.  They found that girls at single-sex schools had significantly more positive attitudes toward science in general, and physics and chemistry in particular, compared with girls at coed schools.
  • Ann Colley, Matthew Gale, and Teri Harris asked 11- and 12-year-olds about their preferences for different subjects.  Girls attending all-girls schools were more likely to prefer math and science than were girls at coed schools.
  • Jones and Clark asked teenage girls how they felt about computers and computer science.  Girls at all-girls schools were far more positive in their feelings toward computers than were girls at coed schools – despite the fact that girls at both schools had the same amount of access to computers.


Ann Colley, Matthew Gale, and Teri Harris.  “Effects of gender role identity and experience on computer attitude components.”  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 10:129-137, 1994.


L. Culley. “Gender equity and computing in secondary schools: issues and strategies for teachers”. In J. Beynon & H. Mackay, Computers into classrooms: more questions than answers, London: Falmer Press, 2000, pp. 147-159.


Harriet Hamilton, "Performance levels in science and other subjects for Jamaican adolescents attending single-sex and coeducational high schools," International Journal of  Science Education, 69(4):535-547, 1985.


T. J. Harvey and A. Stables.  “Gender differences in attitudes to science for third-year pupils:  an argument for single-sex teaching groups in mixed schools.”  Research in Science and Technological Education, 4:163-170, 1986.


C. Jackson and I. D. Smith.  “Poles apart?  An exploration of single-sex and mixed-sex educational environments in Australia and England.”  Educational Studies, 26:409-422, 2000. 


T. Jones and V. Clarke.  “Diversity as a determinant of attitudes:  a possible explanation of the apparent advantage of single-sex settings.”  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 12:51-64, 1995.


L. Lawrie and R. Brown.  “Sex stereotypes, school subject preferences and career aspirations as a function of single/mixed-sex schooling and presence/absence of an opposite sex sibling.”  British Journal of Educational Psychology, 62:132-138, 1992.


P. Newton and E. Beck. Computing: an ideal occupation for women? In J. Beynon & H. Mackay, Computers into classrooms: more questions than answers, London: Falmer Press, 1993, pp. 130-146.