One size fits all? gender, race/ethnicity, and happiness in schools


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Background/Context: While an abundance of evidence demonstrates how unequal conditions in schools contribute to unequal learning outcomes, the extent to which students' affective experiences of schooling reflect similar incongruences warrants further inquiry. Framing this discussion are empirical accounts and popular narratives of schools as socializing institutions that ascribe particular gendered, racialized, and otherwise socially defined identities to young people. These intersections form the basis of their experiences as students and likely shape their individual happiness in schools. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article examines, from an intersectional perspective, whether there are group differences in self-reported happiness in school. Our findings challenge the broad argument that girls are happier in schools because this pattern only holds when comparing levels of happiness between White girls and boys. Research Design: Using data from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, we provide descriptive averages of levels of happiness by sex and race/ethnicity. Given that these patterns are likely shaped by classroom (and teacher and school) conditions, we next use classroom fixed effects models that predict levels of happiness. This modeling strategy makes comparisons only among students in the same classroom who are taught by the same teacher and housed in the same school. Findings/Results: We found that the argument that girls are happier than boys in schools only applies to White students. In contrast, there are no gender differences among Latinx and Asian American students, and we found that Black girls are less happy than their male counterparts. Conclusions/Recommendations: Overall, our article's findings challenge widespread notions that there are universal gender differences in happiness in schools. More broadly speaking, our work speaks to the socializing function of schools and indicates that the gendering process cannot be interpreted without an analysis of how schools also construct race and ethnicity. Future work can build from our study to examine whether the patterns revealed in this study hold true in older grades, given that one of our secondary findings is that older students seem less happy in schools than their younger peers. Research should also examine how interactions with key social actors, such as peers and teachers, shape student happiness in school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number010307
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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