11/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Study Shows How Happy Girls Can Become Happy Women

In 2007, as the Head of an independent school for girls, I traveled around the country with Marcus Buckingham on his Go Put Your Strengths to Work book tour. I had implemented a strengths-base approach in my school for girls with tremendous positive success. In every stop on our 26-city tour, I recall women asking what they do to help their children be successful and happy. Now that this debate has opened up, I speak from authority on the value of teaching young people to develop their strengths, as the head of two schools for girls and an advocate for single-sexed education.

In 2000, the National Coalition of Girls' Schools conducted a research project on graduates from their member schools, This study was done by the Goodman Research Group, Inc. (GRG), an education research and evaluation firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They conducted a large-scale mail survey of NCGS member schools' alumnae.

The following results are available and taken from the National Coalition of Girls' Schools web page:

GRG's six-page survey gathered information about graduates' girls' school experiences, their post-secondary and employment experiences, and their home lives and related issues. In all, 4,274 alumnae from the graduating classes of 1983, 1987, 1991, and 1995 at 64 NCGS schools provided data quantifying their experiences.

Their message is clear: They place an enormous value on their educations at girls' schools. They are confident in their abilities. They are academic achievers. They are leaders. And they credit girls' schools as the places they learned to recognize and harness their talents and potentials. As one alumna put it, by attending a girls' school "I discovered who I was and what I was capable of accomplishing."

The Key Findings of this research are as follows:

Alumnae believed their girls' schools were effectively meeting their goals of offering young women a high-quality educational experience, providing them with leadership opportunities, and encouraging their personal growth. Furthermore, they reported distinct advantages of attending a girls' school. Most of them would choose a girls' school again if they had it to do over.

  • The majority of alumnae (85%) assigned one of the top two ratings of very good or excellent to their girls' school overall, and to 14 of 16 specific aspects about their girls' school. Top-rated were preparation for college academics and providing academic challenge; nearly all the respondents (91%) rated their schools as very good or excellent in these areas.
  • About three-fourths (73%) of the alumnae felt that their girls' school experience was an advantage (either somewhat of an advantage or a big advantage) when choosing a college (74%) and when deciding to take on leadership roles. Also, 78% rated their schools as very good or excellent in terms of instilling self-confidence.
  • The majority of alumnae (72%) either somewhat or strongly agreed that girls' schools are more relevant to young women's personal and social needs than are coed schools. Similarly, nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents agreed (somewhat or strongly) that girls' schools prepare young women for the "real world."
  • A majority (62%) felt they were better or equally prepared to interact academically or socially with men as a result of their girls' school experience, as compared to coed school graduates.
  • Sixty percent (60%) of college graduates were employed at the time of the survey. The majority (83%) were employed full-time, the most common fields being Business, Education, Arts and Entertainment, Law, and Sales.
  • Comparisons with women's fields of employment nationwide are problematic given different coding schemes. However, some calculations suggest that the NCGS alumnae pursue managerial and professional specialties at a greater rate than females nationwide (78% NCGS, compared to 62% nationwide), while the national female population pursues sales and administrative support at a greater rate (30% nationwide versus 11% NCGS).
  • The majority of alumnae (86%) had volunteered in some sort of community organization since graduating from high school, compared to 39% of adults nationwide who participate in an ongoing community service activity.
  • Eighty percent (80%) of respondents had held leadership positions since graduating from high school. Leadership positions in the workplace and in college were especially common.

In summary, the typical NCGS alumna thinks about her girls' school in positive terms, and states that the experience has been an advantage to her in making important life decisions. Since graduating from her girls' school, she has both volunteered in a community organization and held a leadership position.

After reading many of the comments from unhappy women, I can't help but wonder if they would be happier had they attended a single-sexed school.

Single-sex education is not merely a matter of separating girls and boys. It's about making sure girls take center stage, while drawing upon all that we know about the way they grow and learn. It's not just the classroom. It's the combination of the community, the culture and the climate girls' schools offer that makes all-girl education such a powerful and transformative experience. - The National Coalition of Girls Schools

A close look at Marcus Buckingham's research will point us in the direction that originally connected me to him: why wait until we are middle aged to begin focusing on what makes us happy or not? We need to begin developing a culture of happiness from the start. If we spent a lot more time in our schools focused on helping girls become successful, confident, risk takers, we may be able to turn the statistics around. Oftentimes, this is best accomplished with some of the formative time spent away from boys. What do you think?