2013. Vol.4, No.10, 646-650
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.410093
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s .
A Gender Gap Grade Analysis of Hard Sciences
Courses in a School of Pharmacy
Erika Hahn1, Catherine Santanello2, Ron Worthington2, McKenzie Ferguson2
1Country Mar t Pharmacy, Bonne Terre, USA
2School of Pharmacy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, USA
Received July 23rd, 2013; revised August 2 3rd, 2013; accepted August 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Erika Hahn et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
A student survey was conducted to determine perceptions of such things as differential treatment due to
gender, level of preparedness for courses in the hard sciences, and gender performances of students in the
sciences. Additionally, students’ grades of sixteen courses with a heavy hard science focus were analyzed
by taking the percent of a letter grade sorted by male or female to determine if there was a significant
gender difference in the final grades. Our objectives were to: 1) determine if the underrepresentation of
women in some health-related jobs is due to discouragement of females to enter these professions or per-
ceptions of success in hard science courses, 2) examine grades in courses with a strong biology and chem-
istry focus to see if a significant difference due to gender exists. We concluded that a gender gap in hard
sciences grades at the School of Pharmacy did exist but the gap was not large and was not present in all
courses. The majority of women were not discouraged to pursue a science based career, but there was a
difference in the perceived confidence that many females exhibit in the ability to learn material in the hard
science courses and in their preparedness for hard science exams.
Keywords: Gender Gap; Hard Sciences; Female Underrepresentation; Pharmacy
Economists use the phrase “gender gap” to refer to differ-
ences in the outcomes that women and men achieve in their
incomes, types of jobs they choose, and the overall percentage
of women and men in the workplace (Goldin, 2004). In accor-
dance with this, there is a gender gap stereotype that fe males do
not perform as well as ma les in some math and sci ence courses
(Schiebinger, 2001). Not only do studies conclude that stereo-
typing exists, the gender gap has been supported by grade
evaluations in certain science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics (STEM)-related courses in which males have his-
torically outperformed females with respect to exam scores
(Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010). This gender gap was found
to exist in the United States as well as other countries, but not
necessarily globally (Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010). Ac-
cording to their meta-analysis this gap may be narrowing in
some mathematics courses such as algebra. However, there
were still significant gaps where males outperformed females in
the realm of critical thinking skills, complex problem solving,
and in self-confidence. Poor course performance by females
could be conceived as confirming a negative gender stereotype
(Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Beilock, Rydell, & McCon-
nell, 2007), possibly causing a female to fear being devalued
based on her gender (Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002) and
having an impact on her self-confidence to succeed in the hard
What are the origins of this type of stereotyping? Discrepan-
cies in grades may be, in part, the result of negative messages
from elementary teachers that discourage females from pursu-
ing science activities and developing their abilities in these
areas (Mullis & Jenkins, 1988). Shepardson and Pizzini (1992)
suggest that science educators exhibit differential treatment of
girls and boys in science classes, either consciously and/or sub-
consciously, which helps to reinforce this gender gap. Sonnert
(2009) examined the influence that fathers may have on their
children’s perceptions towards the sciences. Fathers are more
likely to use scientific terms and take advantage of learning
opportunities that are related to science and physics in the
household environment. Although it wasn’t found to make a
significant difference between sons and daughters, there still
may be an impact of how a father talks to his children and on a
child’s future views on science and mathematics. In addition to
parental influences, factors like the presence or lack of role
models and the level of parental education were also seen as
influencing one’s views of the hard sciences and future occupa-
Practice of these stereotypes could cause women to be dis-
couraged from pursuing careers in scientific research or aca-
demic positions in pharmacy, engineering, physics, etc., ceding
those jobs to men due to their own deflated confidence in these
science-related fields. Guelich et al. (2002) reported that
women attending medical school were less likely to pursue a
career in medical research than men, giving competing family
obligations and a lack of confidence in this area as chief rea-
sons. Underrepresentation of women in (STEM)-related jobs is
evident in the US as well as other parts of the world (Anita
Borg Institute for Women and Technology, 2012). As reported
E. HAHN ET AL.
by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the percentage of
women in science positions still lags behind males in many
fields: engineers (12.9%), dentists (25.3%), architects (25.8%),
and physicians (32.3%). These statistics reveal that men con-
tinue to dominate the workforce in math/science fields holding
greater than 50% of these careers. The field of Pharmacy differs
in that 53% of those employed in the field of Pharmacy are
female. (U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2011) Yet given the flexibility in
work scheduling and the high income that many pharmacist
positions offer, female presence could be even higher if the
various behaviors that discourage women during science stud-
ies were absent.
Even though there are numerous studies showing statistical
evidence that gender gaps exist, a study conducted by Ferrin-
man, Lubinski, & Benbow (2009) suggests it may be due to
preference. They found that there was a difference in what men
and women desired in order to balance work and family. The
groups of men and women studied were top performers in col-
lege. As the groups became older adults they found that men
put higher priority on work-related needs such as a higher sal-
ary, prestige of the organization they work for, and taking risks.
Women, on the other hand, want to be satisfied in the work-
place, work in a clean environment and obtain respectful rela-
tionships with colleagues. As women started having children,
their preference shifted to wanting better working hours. Since
STEM careers often involve long hours and a competitive en-
vironment, women may face greater difficulty in balancing par-
enting and professional roles than men.
The gender gap between men and women is a multi-faceted
issue. As mentioned, it may be due to gender roles and the at-
mosphere that children grow up in or it may be a matter of
choice. In order to further address this issue, additional research
needs to be conducted to see if specific groups of students suf-
fer from similar disparities that often exist in the workplace.
Following the publication of Miyake et al. (2010) on values
affirmation among college science studies, we asked whether
students in our doctor of pharmacy program partition in a simi-
lar manner by gender. The following study probed whether a
perceived gender gap occurs at the Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville School of Pharmacy (SIUE SoP) in the hard sci-
ences courses and if the grades earned in the hard sciences
courses corresponded to these perceptions.
Sixteen courses were selected from fall of 2005 to fall of
2010 for analysis based on the current curriculum during the
time of the study. Courses were selected from the first three
years of didactic courses of the four year program. Of these
sixteen courses, four were considered courses with a heavy
math emphasis whereas the remaining courses had a strong sci-
ence and chemistry focus. The specific course grades were re-
quested from the Registrar’s Office for the SIUE SoP and the
identities of the students were withheld from the researchers.
The research was approved by the Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville Institutional Review Board. Required courses
were selected by determining if the courses were taught by
instructors listed in the Pharmaceutical Science Department.
Some courses at the SIUE SoP are mixed Pharmaceutical Sci-
ence and Pharmacy Practice. Therefore, content to be included
in this study was determined by hours taught by a Pharmaceu-
tical Science instructor during the course. The description of
high and low science content was also determined by the hours
of instruction by a Pharmaceutical Science instructor whereas
greater than approximately 50% of the course hours were con-
sidered high science/math content. It was requested that the
data include gender and course call number. Students were
selected on the basis of attending the School of Pharmacy from
its inception date until the present date of the survey (See
demographic information, Table 1 and Figure 1). Student
grades were sequestered from fall of 2005 to fall of 2010 with a
total of six graduating and current classes. The students’ grades
were analyzed by taking the percent of a letter grade sorted by
male or female. For example, if there were one hundred male
students, then the number of A grades for the male students
would be divided by the total number of male students. This
was completed for all courses. Also, courses that were similar
in content were combined. For example, Principles of Drug
Action is a two semester course with a similar level of scientific
rigor therefore combined into one analysis.
In order to analyze the data consistently, data were reviewed
according to performance during the respective year in phar-
macy school (P1 year, P2 year, P3 year). Due to course changes
and inconsistencies for the initial class that entered SIUE
School of Pharmacy, the data for year 2005 were removed as
well as some of the data from 2006 and 2007.
In addition to determining student grades, a voluntary per-
ception survey was conducted via Survey Monkey and deliv-
ered to students via email. The survey questions are presented
in Table 2. The questions were not pretested. All current stu-
dents were asked to participate (N = ~320 students) and were
informed that their participation would be anonymous and con-
fidential. Data analysis primarily involved descriptive statistics.
The survey request was sent to all current SIUE SOP stu-
dents via e-mail request totaling approximately 320 students.
Admission class demographics.
Admission YearCumulative GPA PCAT average F/M Ratio
2005 3.58 68 1.1
2006 3.61 73 1.5
2007 3.61 75 1.3
2008 3.63 75 1.4
2009 3.65 68 1.2
2010 3.54 64 1.8
Admission math/science GPA.
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s. 647
E. HAHN ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s.
Perception survey results.
Female % (n = 65) Male % (n = 33)
SA A N DASDASA A N DASDA
I feel WOMEN perform better in hard scienc es courses compared to men.1.5 7.7 56.9 27.7 6.2 0.0 0 57.3 33.39.1
I feel MEN perform better in ha rd science s courses compared to women.0.0 13.855.4 24.6 6.2 9.1 15.2
My hard sciences grades re flected my actual understand ing
of the material in high school. 26.2 47.7 4.6 18.53.1 30.3
51.5 6.1 12.10
My hard sciences grades re flected my actual understand ing
of the material in pre-pharmacy school. 20.0 55.4 9.2 13.81.5 27.3
57.6 0 15.20
My hard sciences grades re flected my actual understand ing
of the material in pharmacy school. 12.3 55.4 15.416.90 21.2
48.5 12.1 18.20
I am very confident in learning material in hard scienc e courses. 12.346.2 18.523.10 15.2
75.8 9.1 0 0
I am usually w ell prepared for hard science s exams. 9.2 49.2 20.020.0 1.5 9.1
72.7 12.1 6.1 0
I can lear n fr om any instru ctor on any subject. 4.6 16.99.2 41.5 27.79.1 12.1 24.2
I need/want a connection with the instructor to perform well i n any course.10.846.2 21.518.5 3.1 6.1
39.4 24.2 27.33.0
I feel that I have been discouraged to pursue a science related
degree based on my gender (any time during my education). 4.6 12.33.1 41.5 38.50 0 6.1 33.360.6
I feel that I have been encouraged to pursue a science degree
based on m y gender. 12.3 18.5 12.3 35.4 21.56.1 12.1
30.3 21.2 30.3
Note: SA: Strongly Agree; A: Agree; N: Neutral; DA: Disagree; SDA: Strongly Disagree.
there was a differenc e in men and women’s performance; how-
ever these differences were not large.
Of these students, 98 responded with 65 female responses and
33 male. A total of 98 students (30%) completed the survey
with the majority being female (n = 65). In the perceptions survey results (Table 2):
A little over half of both women and men were neutral
about their perceptions of which gender performs better in
A total of 6573 grades were reviewed over the 5-year period.
A total of 731 grades were removed from analysis due to course
changes and variability. Of the remaining 5842 grades evalu-
ated, females accounted for 3355 of the total grades and males
accounted for 2487. Figure 1 and Table 2 represent the in-
coming math/science grade point average (GPA) and the fe-
male/male distribution by the admission year into the School of
Pharmacy. This data shows that the female:m ale ratio has steadily
increased over the past 5 years indicating that more females are
entering the profession of pharmacy. Additionally, though the
math/science GPA upon admission decreased in 2010, it has
remained fairly consistent.
Men (69.7% - 81.8%) and women (67.7% - 75.4%) agreed
or strongly agreed that their grades reflected what they un‐
derstood in their coursework prior to pharmacy school or
during their pharmacy graduate work. This correlates with
Martens et al. (2006) who found that females reported self-
satisfaction with grades and performance when self-affir‐
mation was stronger than existing stereotype threats due to
In the category of being very confident in learning material
in hard science courses, 58.5% of the women agreed or
strongly agreed whereas 91% of men agreed or strongly
agreed. Concurrently, 58.4% of women and 81.8% of men
agreed or strongly agreed that they felt well prepared for
The data for the 5842 grades evaluated in the P1, P2, and P3
year were presented in Figures 2-4. This data shows that within
each year in the pharmacy curriculum, females and males are
performing similarly in math/science courses. However, in the
P1 year, males exceed females in the number of A grades and
females exceed males in the number of F grades (14 females, 2
males). The grades are more evenly distributed among females
and males P2 and P3 year.
Based on our study results, men outperformed women in five
of the seven sample groups (Figures 2-5 and Table 3) and men
outperformed women in the overall course grades as well. SIUE
School of Pharmacy’s therapeutics courses are integrated with
pharmacotherapy, clinical therapy and medicinal chemistry. In
integrated therapeutics courses with a high content of medicinal
chemistry, women scored slightly higher than men with a grade
of A and men outperformed women in the B range. Overall, Figure 2.
P1 (first year class) grade d i s t ribution 2005 to 2010 .
E. HAHN ET AL.
P2 (second year class) grade distribution 2005 to 2010 .
P3 (third year class) grad e distribution 2005 to 2010.
Grades according to gender.
hard science exams. This conclusion offers support to the
theory that men show greater confidence than women in
this respect. As previously mentioned, boys may develop
greater confidence in STEM because they are more likely to
have opportunities to develop these relevant skills (Pajares,
2005) and they may have had greater role models in the sci‐
ences at some point in their lives (Sonnert, 2009).
Overall, neither gender felt that they can learn from all in-
structors and the majority of women (57%) and nearly half
of the men (45.5%) reported needing a connection with the
instructor to perform well. This is in concordance with Shea
et al. (2003), who found that student-faculty interaction is
one of the strongest predictors of perceived learning of the
course material and course satisfaction. Some students may
relate to certain professors more than others due to things
such as gender biases, instructional styles, or personality
Student performance percent by course.
Female versus Male Student Gr ades by Course 2005-2010
% A Grades % B G ra des
Female Male FemaleMale
All Courses 27 29 43 46
Clinical Pharmacokinetics 63 68 34 29
Principles of Drug Action —
Medicinal C hemistry 16 17 40 46
Pharmaceutics & Pharmacokinetics
I, II, III 17 21 46 51
Biochem ical/Biochemistry Principles 33 45 47 40
Microbiology & Immunology 57 50 36 39
Integrated Therapeutics with High
Medicinal Che mistry Content
Infectious Dise ase and Oncology17 16 44 47
55 48 40
differences and this relationship may enhance their con-
nectedness to the material. There is also evidence that stu-
dents shift perceptions during graduate school to learning
the material rather than focusing on a final grade and the
instructional design (Ames & Archer, 1988).
None of the men agreed or strongly agreed that they were
discouraged to pursue a science career whereas roughly
17% of women felt that they had been discouraged. Similar
research by Spencer, Steele & Quinn (1999), Beilock, Ry‐
dell & McConnell (2007) and Steele, Spencer & Aronson
(2002) supports the premise that females are sometimes
subject to this type of discouragement based on their gen‐
Limitations to this study included the lack of evaluation of
other factors that could potentially impact grades and survey
perceptions, such as the age of students, previous degrees held,
and other related demographic data. Also, some students may
perform poorly in courses where they do not see real-life appli-
cations and aren’t intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, re-
sulting in lower grades. Their final grades may not correlate
with preparedness or potential to have earned a higher grade.
Another limitation is that integrated courses include a combina-
tion of both math/science and pharmacy practice-related con-
tent, making it difficult to draw conclusions relating to per-
formance without seeing the breakdown of performance in each
area. These team-taught courses can also make it hard to deter-
mine if specific instructors are hindering or enhancing learning
in these courses and makes it difficult to determine if there is a
connectedness with an individual instructor resulting in en-
hanced student performance. Additionally, only a small propor-
tion of the students (30%) responded to the survey which could
render some reporting bias in the collected data.
After final evaluation, there does appear to be a gender gap
in hard sciences grades at the School of Pharmacy. However,
this gap is not large and is not present in all classes. Further-
more, there are some courses in which women outperform the
men. It also a ppears that while the majority of women we re not
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s. 649
E. HAHN ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 Sci R e s.
discouraged to pursue a science based career, there does appear
to be a difference in the perceived confidence that many fe-
males exhibit in the ability to learn material in the hard science
courses and in their preparedness for hard science exams. De-
spite these perceptions, one could conclude that they pursued
and achieved admission to pharmacy school due to their own
interest in the health sciences. Additionally, women may have
chosen the field of pharmacy due to the fact that there is more
potential for earning higher wages with better hours compared
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