Understanding gender effects of teacher-student interactions


A Although we would like to think that a teacher's gender will have no bearing on a child's academic experience, several studies have found that assignment to a teacher of the opposite sex may negatively impact a child's academic experience. On average, teachers are more likely to have negative perceptions of a child's performance if the child is of the opposite sex. Children are also likely to perform worse academically when assigned to teachers of the opposite sex.


Fortunately, we can still come close to doing this if we are able to design studies that simulate parallel worlds. One reliable way was proposed by Professor Thomas Dee of Stanford University. In a series of studies, conducted over the years 2005-2007, he estimates the effect of being assigned to a teacher of the opposite sex on students' educational outcomes by comparing each student's outcomes across two different subjects: one in which the student was taught by a male teacher (call this subject M) and another in which that same student was taught by a female teacher (call this subject F). The student's achievement in subject F is then taken to represent what the student would have achieved in subject M had the student been assigned a female teacher in subject M.

But you might protest, "What if people are innately better in one subject than in the other? Wouldn't we be attributing the difference in outcomes incorrectly to the effect of teacher gender in this case?" Sure enough, if we consider only one student in isolation, any difference could indeed be partly reflecting differences in the student's ability across both subjects. However, it turns out that when these comparisons are averaged across all students, all differences in students' innate ability across subjects get wiped away. Comparing students' outcomes across both subjects would therefore give us a credible estimate of teacher gender.

Prof Dee finds that students are more likely to be negatively perceived by the teacher and to perform worse academically if they do not share the same sex as the teacher. He used the 1988 National Education Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative data set of 24,599 eighth-grade students from the United States. Although the data set is somewhat dated, it was used because it is one of the few which collect information from each student's teachers in two different subjects, making it possible to employ the estimation strategy he uses.

Because Prof Dee's studies are, today, widely regarded as among the most influential and heavily cited in the teacher gender literature, I build on them, by using the same data set but adding additional controls for various teacher and class characteristics. My results support his findings. I find that both male and female students are more likely to be seen as disruptive when they are taught by a teacher of the opposite sex.