Meta-analysis of gender performance gaps in undergraduate natural science courses

Sara Odom, Halle Boso, Scott Bowling, Sara Brownell, Sehoya Cotner, Catherine Creech, Abby Grace Drake, Sarah Eddy, Sheritta Fagbodun, Sadie Hebert, Avis C. James, Jan Just, Justin R.St Juliana, Michele Shuster, Seth K Thompson, Richard Whittington, Bill D. Wills, Alan E. Wilson, Kelly R. Zamudio, Min ZhongCissy J. Ballen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


To investigate patterns of gender-based performance gaps, we conducted a meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished data collected across 169 undergraduate biology and chemistry courses. While we did not detect an overall gender gap in performance, heterogeneity analyses suggested further analysis was warranted, so we investigated whether attributes of the learning environment impacted performance disparities on the basis of gender. Several factors moderated performance differences, including class size, assessment type, and pedagogy. Specifically, we found evidence that larger classes, reliance on exams, and undisrupted, traditional lecture were associated with lower grades for women. We discuss our results in the context of natural science courses and conclude by making recommendations for instructional practices and future research to promote gender equity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberar40
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the biology education research group at Auburn University for help with data collection and valuable feedback on versions of the article: Emily Driessen, Todd Lamb, Egypt Pettway, Sara Wood, Sharday Ewell, Chloe Josefson, Abby Beatty, Tashitso Anamza, and Ash Zemenick. This work is supported by NSF DBI-1919462 awarded to S.C., S.F., and C.J.B.; DUE-2011995 awarded to C.J.B.; the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station; the Hatch Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 S. Odom et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education.


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