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Home > Research Articles > U. Illinois study shows anxiety, depression hurts girls' grades


Saturday, July 13, 2002

U. Illinois study shows anxiety, depression hurts girls' grades-(U. Illinois) U-WIRE - July 08, 2002 (U-WIRE) CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Although researchers have disagreed in the past, a recent study by a University of Illinois professor found that girls perform better academically than boys, but anxiety and depression often accompany their higher grades.

U. Illinois associate psychology professor Eva Pomerantz was the lead investigator in a study comparing the academic performance and distress levels, such as anxiety and depression, of boys and girls in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

Girls' stress levels are more than double their academic "edge," according to the study, which was published in the June edition of The Journal of Educational Psychology.

"Given that children who do well in school are substantially less likely ... to be vulnerable to internal distress, it seems incongruous that girls outperform boys ... and yet are also more prone to internal distress," the journal article said.

Girls view their abilities and performances more negatively than boys in all subjects except "stereotypically feminine subjects," such as reading, according to the article. Girls are more likely to feel symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The gap between boys' and girls' anxiety levels increases with age but is evident as early as elementary school.

The study examined 932 children throughout one year. Data were collected from two sources, the students' grades and reports by the children on how competent they felt in each subject and the level and frequency of anxiety and depression, according to the article.

The article attributes girls' increased internal distress levels to two factors. First, girls are more concerned with the opinions of adults and view failure, or the possibility of failure, as way of letting adults down. The girls equate letting adults down with having little self-worth.

According to the article, girls also view scores as more diagnostic than the way boys view scores. Girls tend to assume scores reflect their abilities, whereas boys tend to dismiss scores as representative of one test.

Students have mixed opinions on the results of the study. Sarah Larimer, resident of Salem, Ill., and incoming freshman at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Christina Yallaly, incoming freshman at the University, agree that girls do worry more but feel the difference is not gender-based.

"(Girls) tend to get so caught up in details. A little test could push us over the edge," Larimer said. "If you don't get the A, the A- is crap."

"I don't know if the differences are between our genders or just our personality types," Yallaly said. "I think it's how they're brought up and their parents and their environment."

Senior Michael Kupkowski said he thinks girls perform better academically.

"I'm in all science classes and those are mostly girls," he said. "I think the tide is turning."

Other potential causes mentioned in the article for girls' higher academic performance and internal stress levels include stereotypes of the helpless woman and powerful man, boys' dominance in classroom settings and girls concerning themselves with more issues than boys, such as appearance.

(C) 2002 Daily Illini via U-WIRE