Based in san francisco, california, mia shaw writes, acts, and analyzes public policy. Her posts explore current events, cultural phenomena, and diverse opinions.

'Getting-by girls' prioritize social lives over school, study shows

'Getting-by girls' prioritize social lives over school, study shows

A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley has detailed the lives of “getting-by girls” — white teenage girls putting in just enough effort to get by academically, who prioritize their social lives over academic achievement.

In balancing school, athletics, clubs and partying, getting-by girls placate teachers, copy homework, cheat on tests, avoid challenges and maintain B-average grades.

According to UC Berkeley sociologist Michele Rossi, who conducted the study, getting-by girls are not people “you would necessarily feel sorry for,” nor are they people you would “consider important or envy.” These girls define themselves as “regular kids” or “slackers,” and distance themselves from competitive overachievers, who they refer to as “AP kids” or “dorks.”

“These girls under-perform academically not because they lack ability, or self-esteem, or good teachers,” said Rossi. “They under-perform because their white, lower middle-class culture values sociability, and doing enough to have enough. In a high school context, this culture clashes with an upper-middle class culture that prizes striving and individual advancement.”

Jessica Weiss, a freshman at Willamette University, believes there are many possible reasons for the “getting-by girl” phenomenon in her age group.

“From social media creating insecurities, to not believing there is much social mobility for them,” explained Weiss, “these girls might not think they need to do much… they already have plenty of support from their parents.“

Weiss argues that some girls’ underachievement may be a result of social media having intensified young women’s concerns about their appearances and popularity.

“We have been completely absorbed by how others view how we live our lives,” said Weiss. “Our concerns shift away from our ‘invisible achievements’ — test scores, how we do in class — because these are things that media have framed as ‘not cool’ to discuss.”

Moving forward, Weiss believes that social media may be able to help solve the problem it exacerbated.

“Social media can help solve the issue if students are excited about sharing stories of their achievement,” concluded Weiss. “What is seen today as ‘nerdy’ or ‘boring’ needs to be framed as something people want to share.”

Gabriella Borter, a freshman at Yale University, believes that being part of such a culture of academic achievement is a key factor in a student’s success.

“I would say that a genuine love of learning combined with — and sometimes exaggerated by — a feeling of intense pressure to get into a top college kept all students at my high school very committed to their schoolwork,” said Borter, who graduated from a top New York City prep school. “There is an unspoken expectation that all students must pursue their passion and excel at both their academics and extracurriculars. Everyone buys into that same standard of success.”

If a student’s environment isn’t conducive to high academic performance, Borter says, inspiration to achieve must instead come from exceptional teachers and personal motivation to achieve set goals.

“The getting-by girls’ emphasis on fun and cultivating social ties is appealing, as is their resistance to the cut-throat competitiveness and pursuit of self-interest they see among their ‘overachiever’ peers,” stated Rossi. “However, in an increasingly polarized job market, where educational attainment —particularly in STEM fields — is the key to ‘good’ jobs, it is not clear there is a place for them.”

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