Study finds that professors give ‘least attractive’ women lower grades

The study found that the grade difference disappeared for online courses. Shutterstock / PathDoc

The grades college students receive in their classes are theoretically based on their test scores, the quality of their papers, and their class participation. But a new study done by two economists at the Metropolitan State University of Denver found that the way a student looks—especially if she’s female—might also impact her final grade in a class.

The study, which was first reported by Inside Higher Ed, found that, among similarly qualified female students, those who were deemed more “physically attractive,’’ received better grades than their less attractive peers. The researchers also found that, for male students, there was no significant relationship between attractiveness and grades. And it wasn’t just male professors giving more attractive females higher grades, the results held true whether the faculty member was a man or a woman.

To determine attractiveness, Inside Higher Ed said the two economists showed photos of students to people who were not attending or teaching at the university. They then asked these people to rate the attractiveness of the students on a scale of 1-10, which allowed them to divide the students into three groups—“average,’’ “more attractive’’ and “less attractive.’’ The researchers determined academic ability by examining 168,092 course grades awarded to all of the students, and used factors such as standardized test scores as a control.

They found “least attractive’’ female students were affected the most. While the women deemed “most attractive’’ received a small (not statistically significant) increase of 0.024 grade points on a scale of 4.0, the “least attractive’’ group had average course grades that were 0.067 grade points below those earned by others.


To further confirm their findings, the economists analyzed grades in online courses, where they found no difference in grades for men or women. Rey Hernandez-Julian, one of the study’s authors, told Inside Higher Ed there were two possible explanations.

“Is it that professors invest more time and energy into the better-looking students, helping them learn more and earn the higher grades?’’ he said. “Or do professors simply reward the appearance with higher grades given identical performance? The likely answer, given our growing understanding of the prevalence of implicit biases, is that professors make small adjustments on both of these margins.’’

Read more at Inside Higher Ed.

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