Photo by freeimage4life, Flickr CC

Although female students as a whole perform better than their male counterparts in both high school and college, the labor market assesses their academic achievements very differently. New research by Natasha Quadlin looked at how grades matter for securing a job and whether the outcomes vary by gender. She found that high academic achievement pays off for men, but not for women.

Quadlin created 2,000 job applications and sent them to entry-level job openings for male and female candidates with identical résumés and then determined their success based on callback rates. Among men, those with a C+ college GPA got as many callbacks as A- applicants. Among women however, B+ applicants received the most callbacks.  When comparing both genders, A+ men received roughly twice as many callbacks as A+ women. These differences were even greater for women in traditionally “masculine” majors, like math or the physical sciences.

To understand the reasoning behind these decisions, Quadlin then sent the same applications to employers in charge of hiring decisions at more than 250 companies. She asked them to provide feedback about applicants’ qualifications and personal characteristics based solely on the application materials. When assessing men, employers discussed competence and commitment; for women, employers discussed likability. Employers viewed high-achieving women as arrogant and ambitious. On the other hand, they viewed high-achieving men as competent and likable, simultaneously. These findings reveal that the labor market still represents a major challenge for women — a gender gap persists even when women demonstrate equal or higher academic performance than men.