Does gender bias shape college students’ evaluations of their instructors?

Yes, it does.

Universities commonly solicit feedback from college students about their instructors through teaching evaluations. In theory, these evaluations provide instructors with feedback for improving their courses and also help universities make decisions around instructors’ tenure, promotion and compensation.

But how fair are these evaluations?

Not very fair at all, according to a growing body of research examining gender bias in students’ evaluations. This research finds that women instructors are systematically evaluated worse than men instructors, even absent differences in instruction or student learning.

Compared to women, men are often perceived as more accurate in their teaching, more educated, less sexist, more enthusiastic, more competent, and easier to understand. Men are also penalized less for being tougher graders.

In their evaluations, students also use different language to evaluate instructors of different genders. Men are more likely to receive comments about their qualifications and competence, and to be referred to as a “professor.” In contrast, women are more likely to receive comments about their personalities or appearance, and be referred to as a “teacher”.

At the same time, how gender bias plays into teaching evaluations can often depend on other course-related factors. For instance, women tend to receive lower scores in the natural and social sciences compared to the humanities. Importantly, conforming to prescribed gender roles can have a more significant effect than gender itself. That is, students prefer professors with masculine traits and penalize women who don’t conform to feminine stereotypes.

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