Gender differences in the academic consequences of adolescent heterosexual romantic relationships
This dissertation explores how romance influences high school academic outcomes differently for boys and girls. I use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the linked Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement transcript study to assess how forming a heterosexual romantic relationship contributes to changes in overall academic performance and educational expectations, as well as course taking trajectories and grades across four academic subjects with differing gendered legacies. I also consider how the school romantic climate influences education and if it conditions the effect of an individual’s romantic relationship formation. Although this research uses a nationally representative sample, it focuses exclusively on differences by gender rather than race/ethnicity or class and likely depicts a dominant version of heterosexual romance that is most applicable to middle class, White adolescents. vii This research considers several hypotheses drawn from combining the literature on gender and education with the research and theory on romance. One is that romance and academics are competing interests and therefore hurts educational outcomes. The second is that romance holds more salience for girls, and therefore reflects a competing demand exclusively for girls. The final hypothesis is that relationships encourage adherence to traditional gender roles, and therefore lead to academic outcomes consistent with stereotypes about gender and education. This research finds that romantic relationships do influence education, but they are particularly harmful to girl’s academic well-being. Girls experience declining grades and college aspirations following relationship formation, while boys experience negative consequences only in traditionally feminine subjects. School orientation and sexual activity help explain this link, but the findings are not fully explained even after accounting for background characteristics and the changes in academic risk factors associated with relationship formation. School romantic climate also contributes to academics, particularly because it conditions the effect of forming a relationship. Forming a relationship in schools where romance is more valued magnifies the negative effects for girls’ overall grades, while lessening the effects for boys’ English and foreign language outcomes. This research suggests that adolescent romance is an important social activity that contributes to academic well-being, but that it is a highly gendered process.