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Women Job Applicants Punished For Higher Grades, OSU Study Finds

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As college students stress about landing their first job, the question of how their grade point average will impact their chances looms large. It may seem like the equation should be simple: the better the grade point average, the bigger the edge.

But new research from The Ohio State University suggests that, in reality, the impact of one's GPA depends on gender.

Natasha Quadlin, associate professor of sociology, sent 2,106 dummy applications for entry-level jobs, within three majors - English, math and business - with varying GPAs. For each job, she sent applications of similar strength, GPA, and cover letters, changing only the gender. 

"There were really striking patterns with respect to both gender and GPA," Quadlin says. "For men, I found GPA didn't really matter that much. "

With GPAs ranging from 2.5 to 3.9, men received callbacks at the same rate. Women, though, saw a different pattern. If women did moderately well, around a B or a B+, they were called back more often than if they had low grades. But if they did very well, around an A average, they were penalized.

The callback rate for women who had high grades was actually lower than if they had moderate grades.

"The result of this, of course," Quadlin says, "is that men with high grades end up having more callbacks than women who have high grades because there is this penalty associated with women who have high  achievement."

While the existence of sexism in the workplace has been well understood for years, Quadlin says there hasn't been much research into the intersection of GPA and gender in job searches. So while some believe that grades don't matter or high grades correlate to better outcomes, Quadlin's research shows there is nuance to the impact of academic achievement on graduates landing their first gig.

"This kind of shows that there are gendered premiums and penalties that go along with grades that we didn't necessarily know about before," Quadlin says.

Quadlin's research into perception of intelligence and likability in entry level job searches will be published in the American Sociological Review in April.

Copyright 2018 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.