New Research: In Faculty Evals, Students Fall Back on Gender Stereotypes

by Matthew Reisz

French research finds that undergraduates give higher scores to male teachers

Research from France offers evidence that “students appear to rate teachers according to gender stereotypes”, with male students giving higher scores to male lecturers.

That is the conclusion of a paper by Anne Boring, a postdoctoral researcher at L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, better known as Sciences Po, to be presented at the European Economic Association’s annual conference, which takes place in Mannheim later this month. Her database consists of 22,665 evaluations by 4,423 first-year undergraduates of 372 different teachers in a single university.

French “universities make promotion decisions, including tenure, on evaluation of achievements in a combination of research, teaching and service activities,” writes Dr. Boring, adding that “teaching effectiveness” is “mainly evaluated through student evaluations of teaching (SET)”.

Her analysis suggests that “male students give much higher scores to male teachers, in terms of overall satisfaction as well as in all dimensions of teaching”. One clear sign of this is that “male students are 30 per cent more likely to rate male teachers’ overall satisfaction scores as excellent than when evaluating female teachers”, Dr. Boring writes.

Such differences have no basis in “actual teaching effectiveness”, since “students perform equally well on final exams, whether the teacher was a man or a woman”, she argues.


Dr. Anne Boring

The paper, titled “Gender biases in student evaluations of teachers”, also breaks down the biases in more detail. Female teachers are evaluated relatively favourably on dimensions such as “the preparation and organisation of course materials, the quality of instructional materials, and the clarity of assessment criteria”, writes Dr. Boring, although “male students still give a small premium to male teachers”. All of these are “teaching skills that require a lot of work outside the classroom”, she adds.

Male teachers, by contrast, “tend to obtain more favourable ratings by both male and female students in less time-consuming dimensions of teaching, such as quality of animation and class leadership skills”, she continues.

Although all this strongly suggests that “SET scores do not necessarily measure actual teaching effectiveness”, argues Dr. Boring, “universities continue to use this tool in a way that may hurt women (and probably other minorities as well, and men who do not correspond to students’ expectations of gender stereotypes) in their academic careers”.

While male teachers “may need to invest less effort to show competence in the criteria that are associated to male stereotypes”, female teachers do indeed “report spending more time on teaching activities”, she says. This may impact on the time that they are able to dedicate to research, she adds.

In conclusion, Dr. Boring suggests that her study confirms the work of earlier researchers in finding that “women may suffer from gender biases that are likely to have a strong impact on their academic careers”. She therefore urges universities to “review the systemic incentives they create when they are evaluating academic activities for tenure and promotion decisions”.

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