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Description: Psychology has a recurrent problem. Well, perhaps, it may be better to say that western (North American) Psychology, despite its commitment to empiricism and scientific objectivity, is a product of its culture. Try this thought on for size: Western Psychology strongly prefers to see the individual (singular person) as its unit of analysis. One person, one brain, acting in multiple contexts but essentially being the core of causality for explanations of how and why things work out the way they do for them. When Psychologists group people together for research and explanatory purposes they typically do so in terms of individual characteristics such as gender or age, etc. In so doing, Psychological theories and research generally stick close to explanations that can be understood to apply at the individual level in the form of choices or strategies made or taken up by individuals. Social forces, being external to individuals are seen as secondarily casual compared to individual choices or strategies – they can influence the choices that individuals make and even play a role in shaping development as a result, but individuals are favoured over social forces in Psychological theories. Does that make any sense to you? Well, regardless of your answer, but especially if you said “No” keep what I have written above in mind as you read the article linked below. It is, as its title suggests, asking why girls generally outperform boys in school and yet are outperformed by boys in the work world. Read it and see parts of it resonant with my opening statement above. Oh, and before you put it down have a look though a few of the over 1000 comments (within only 2 days after it was published online) that have been posted and linked to the article

Source: Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office, Lisa Damour, Opinion, The New York Times.

Date: February 7, 2019

Photo Credit: Wenting Li, The New York Times.

 Article Link:

So, what do you think after reading the article and perhaps having read a few comments from other readers? At the individual level, the article is a cogent account of distinct strategies typically chosen and deployed by girls and boys as they move through the school system and of the consequences of those choices and strategies once young women and men finish their formal education and head into the work world. However, that approach seems to lead to an explanation of gendered related issues in the workplace as due to the particular choices and strategies developed by girls and boys while in school. Does that seem right (or fair…. or ethical) to you? The reader comments offer a broad array of additional or even alternate theoretic/explanatory possibilities, which include concern over the “gender only” nature of the article’s focus (how about race?), and the apparent lack of consideration of socio-cultural and historical forces involving versions of male dominance or patriarchy. What to do? Well the parts of the article that speculated about what one (clinical psychologists or parents – the author is both) could do, or could help their daughters to do, provides a Psychology version of the Think Globally – Act Locally aphorism that reminds us that lives are lived individually. However, if we (if Psychology) stay(s) at the individual level we miss out on understanding and describing the individual impacts of some powerful social forces.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does the author of the article linked above describe as the differences between boys and girls in terms of how they approach school work?
  2. What does the author of the article linked above see as the impacts of these school strategies on how men and women manage in the work world?
  3. If we want to raise our vision up from the individual level of analysis in relation to the situations and questions discussed in the article linked above what else might or should we consider and are these simply additional variables or could they change the way we think about individual choices and individual development?

References (Read Further):

Fortin, N. M., Oreopoulos, P., & Phipps, S. (2015). Leaving boys behind gender disparities in high academic achievement. Journal of Human Resources, 50(3), 549-579.

Shipman, C. and Kay, K. (2014)  The Confidence Gap, The Atlantic,

Kling, K. C., Noftle, E. E., & Robins, R. W. (2013). Why do standardized tests underpredict women’s academic performance? The role of conscientiousness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(5), 600-606.’s_Academic_Performance_The_Role_of_Conscientiousness/links/0c9605388de5299eea000000/Why-Do-Standardized-Tests-Underpredict-Womens-Academic-Performance-The-Role-of-Conscientiousness.pdf

Kim, U., Yang, K. S., & Hwang, K. K. (2006). Contributions to indigenous and cultural psychology. In Indigenous and Cultural Psychology (pp. 3-25). Springer, Boston, MA.

Becker, D., & Marecek, J. (2008). Dreaming the American dream: Individualism and positive psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(5), 1767-1780.

Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological bulletin, 128(1), 3.