Study: Men participate more than women

Bethany English

In a large lecture class, the instructor poses a question to the students. Hands shoot up all around the room, but the person called on may not be as random as the selection appears.

Susan Iverson, assistant professor of higher education and administration, researched gender differences in class participation and found some generalizations about behavior.

According to Iverson’s research, the person who answers the question is more likely to be a man than a woman.

“Males insert themselves more frequently or are called on more frequently than women,” Iverson said.

Research in younger age groups, Iverson said, shows teachers call on male students to answer questions more often than female students. Women aren’t intentionally ignored, but even in modern society, information tends to come from a male voice or a male source.

This tendency is suspected to be the case at the collegiate level as well, though it is much harder to study with so many different classes, students and instructors.

While men will jump into a conversation, Iverson said women tend to put up their hand and wait to be called on until they speak. This might come from the “good girl message” women get that they should sit, be quiet and wait to be called on.

Jennifer Rentz, senior general studies major, said different classroom environments can create different participation patterns.

“In smaller classes or classes where it’s more female dominated, women will speak up more,” Rentz said.

She will speak in class, interject into conversations and give her opinion, but only in classes where she feels comfortable and knows the people and subject matter.

“The aim of classroom participation is to bring together the many perspectives of what we’ve read,” Iverson said.

If there is a male-dominated voice in the classroom, Rentz said she is concerned the female perspective doesn’t always have the chance to be heard and that alternate view is lost.

Iverson said women might begin to “devalue” their own voice if they regularly aren’t called on in class, and over time they may not even try to participate in discussions.

But not all men participate in the same way, either. Some don’t participate at all.

Alex Schacht, sophomore business management major, said he doesn’t always participate in his classes.

“To be honest, it depends on the situation,” Schacht said.

Like Rentz, in a smaller class Schacht said he will participate more often than he would in a large lecture class.

He isn’t worried about being wrong, he said, but he waits for someone else to answer. While he waits, he might discuss it with those around him.

“It seems to be the same people in general,” Schacht said of those who participate.

Participation among genders seems to be “fairly equal” to him.

In fact, Schacht said he would imagine more women would participate than men.

Every individual participates differently because everyone learns differently. It isn’t just a matter of differences based on gender.

“A challenge in instruction is to be sensitive to that and find ways to make it easier for students to engage,” Iverson said.

You can contact Bethany English at [email protected].