One-Third of Girls With 4.0 GPAs Don’t Think They’re Smart — and Other Findings From National School Survey
Who is in control of the world? If you consult Beyoncé, she would say it is girls. However, if you ask actual girls, their answer may differ greatly. A recent national survey of approximately 11,000 girls aged 10 to 18 reveals that many of them lose confidence as they grow older. Despite having high GPAs, they do not see themselves as intelligent, doubt their suitability for their dream job, experience depression due to social media, and feel pressured to engage in sexting.
Despite lacking confidence, a majority of girls in the survey expressed a desire to be in charge. However, many of them hesitate to take on leadership positions because they fear being perceived as bossy.
Lisa Hinkelman, the author of the Girls Index survey and the founder and executive director of Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), a nonprofit organization that conducts the survey, has been studying girls for 15 years. The survey originated from a research project initiated at Ohio State University in 2006 and became an independent organization in 2011. ROX provides training to educators to support the well-being and self-assurance of girls in schools.
Even girls with a perfect 4.0 GPA lack confidence in their abilities. One-third of them believe they are not intelligent enough for their dream job, and 62 percent of girls with the highest GPAs avoid sharing their opinions or disagreeing with others because they desire acceptance. This tendency is stronger among high-achieving girls compared to those with lower GPAs.
This finding aligns with other research suggesting that high school valedictorians are unlikely to achieve success and wealth. It implies that high academic achievers excel at conforming rather than leading and innovating. Hinkelman argues that girls become proficient at performing well in school, leading educators to assume that they require less support than their peers, thus masking their social-emotional needs.
As girls grow older, their enjoyment of school diminishes. While 87 percent of fifth-graders enjoy going to school, only 55 percent of 11th-graders share the same sentiment. However, many girls feel supported by their teachers, with 77 percent stating that their teachers treat them as intelligent individuals.
The influence of sex and social media on girls is significant. Girls who spend more time on social media are less likely to trust other girls, more susceptible to feelings of depression and sadness, and have lower levels of camaraderie with their female peers.
Moreover, it is nearly impossible to avoid sexting. The survey reveals that 66 percent of high school seniors have been asked to send sexually explicit photos, while 75 percent of girls believe that students their age engage in this behavior.
Hinkelman argues that schools have room for improvement in supporting girls in their use of social media. Many school interventions focus on instilling fear by highlighting the risks of the online world, rather than teaching girls how to navigate it. Instead, girls should be equipped with skills that are applicable in both social and real-life contexts, such as identifying coercion, setting boundaries, and learning to assertively say no.
Confidence levels decrease as girls grow older. In fifth grade, 87 percent of girls feel confident, whereas only 60 percent of high school girls share the same sentiment. Older girls also experience less happiness, have a greater inclination to change their appearance, and are less likely to believe in their own abilities.
Nonetheless, young women possess a desire for leadership. The majority (64 percent) of girls enjoy being in charge, and only a small fraction (8 percent) believe that men are better leaders than women. However, one in three girls fear that assuming leadership positions will make them appear bossy.
An eighth-grade participant in the survey expressed the belief that girls can be great leaders, but they are not always taken seriously. It often seems that society does not believe girls can be both strong and female. Their capabilities are sometimes underestimated.
Mentoring opportunities exist, as half of the girls surveyed reported not having anyone at their high school helping them explore post-graduation plans.
Methodology of the Survey
In the conduct of the survey, ROX collaborated with various schools to ensure a comprehensive representation of girls from grades 5 to 12 across the nation. The survey, which was both anonymous and voluntary, was completed by a total of 10,678 girls between the years 2016 and 2017, utilizing either computer or paper formats.
The formulation of the survey questions and the determination of the key areas of focus were achieved through the collaboration of a diverse group of educational policymakers, counselors, attorneys, parents, researchers, and students. To enhance its validity, the survey initially underwent a pilot phase involving more than 600 girls. Based on this pilot phase, the survey questions were refined to ensure their effectiveness and relevance.