Degree performance as a function of discipline studied, parental occupation and gender

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    Degree performance in England and Wales was investigated as a function of social class and gender for several disciplines of study. Three performance criteria were considered: FIRST class; GOOD, and COMPETENT. The findings are complex, and some of them conflict with widely held class and gender stereotypes. Women performed better than men at the FIRST class and/or GOOD criteria, in all professional disciplines and in biological sciences. At the FIRST and GOOD criteria women performed best relative to men in biological content areas, next best in physical and mathematical content areas and worst in humanities content areas. A similar ordering of content areas was obtained when comparing students of lower class origins with those of upper and middle class origins. At the COMPETENT criterion, women performed better than men; and students of lower social class origins performed better than students of upper and middle social class origins. There was a trend, particularly marked in the humanities, for women to perform less well at the FIRST class criterion than would have been predicted by their achievements at the GOOD criterion. The implications of these patterns for theories of group differences in excellent academic performance and for educational policy are discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)513-534
    JournalHigher Education
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1987


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