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Changing Gender Connotations of School and Studiousness

Boys’ and girls’ relative rates of educational achievement, 1930-2008

Project Description

During the 20th century, girls have surpassed boys in most forms of academic achievement. Scholars have proposed that part of the reason for this achievement gap is the existence of a masculine youth culture that devalues schooling and studiousness, perceiving both as associated with girls rather than boys. In this project, we undertake the first truly large-scale examination of the cultural association between education and femininity. We use machine learning to examine a 200-million-word corpus of literary fiction, magazines, newspaper articles, and nonfiction books published in the United States between 1930 and 2009. Using a spatial embedding approach, we estimate the changing gender coding of words related to different aspects of education and intelligence in this corpus. We then investigate the relationship between these cultural trends and gender differences in academic achievement across the decades.

Student Researcher Tasks and Responsibilities

Student researchers will primarily help us select the keywords we use to track education and studiousness. Most words have multiple different meanings. To determine which keywords we use in our scales, we need to ascertain that they are used primarily in their education-related meaning. For example, the word “class” can be used to refer to (i) a lesson (ii) a collection of students, or (iii) socioeconomic class, among other meanings. We could only use class as a keyword if it were used predominantly to mean (i) or (ii), and relatively rarely to mean (iii). Student researchers will help us establish this empirically, by reading text excerpts we randomly sample from the corpus and coding whether or not the keywords of interest are used in education-related ways.

Additional information

Average hours of work per week:  3-9

Number of credits:   2 or 3 credits

Positions available: 2

Contact Info

Prof. Andrei Boutyline, aboutyl@umich.edu