Do Non-Tenured Women Faculty Inflate Grades More Than Men to Increase Their Chance of Retention?

A new study led by Amanda Griffith, an associate professor of economics at Wake Forest University in Winton-Salem North Carolina, finds that grade inflation may be more likely in classes taught by female adjunct instructors and non-tenured professors.

Using data from a large, public research university, the team looked for incentives to award high grades that might be linked to both gender and contract status. For adjunct instructors, contract renewal often relies heavily on student evaluations – particularly in large, public research institutions.

The findings indicate that students are more likely to receive higher grades when they take classes with female instructors who hold positions with more contract uncertainty (temporary or pre-tenure) than if the instructor is tenured, but that there is little to no difference in grades received across faculty rank of male instructors. The study also found evidence that female instructors who award higher grades on average are more likely to be retained,

“Instructors with more job uncertainty due to their rank would be most incentivized to award higher grades, as this may lead to better evaluations of teaching and an increase in retention probability,” Dr. Griffith said. “Women are more risk-averse than men, which may create a greater, unintentional incentive for women to avoid uncertainty.”

“We hope that our research adds to the awareness of increased pressures that female faculty face and the importance of finding ways to address gender bias,” Dr. Griffith added.

Dr. Griffith joined the faculty at Wake Forest University in 2009 and was promoted to associate professor in 2015. She is a graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, where she majored in economics and biology. Dr. Griffith holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The full study, “Under Pressure: How Faculty Gender and Contract Uncertainty Impact Students’ Grades,” was published in the journal Economics of Education Review. It was co-authored by Veronica Sovero, an assistant professor of economics at San Francisco State University. The research may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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