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Gender Differences in Sense of Justice about Grades: A Comparative Study of High School Students in Israel and Germany

by Nura Resh & Claudia Dalbert - 2007

Assessing students’ aptitude and educational performance and grading them on a hierarchical scale is a universal feature of the schooling process. In light of grades’ instrumental, motivational, and symbolic saliency in students’ school experience, it is not surprising they are highly ”valued goods,” and the process of their fair or unfair distribution is of great concern, echoed in students’ and teachers’ discourses. In this investigation, we focus on gender differentials in sense of justice about grades, comparing high school students in two educational settings: Israel and Germany. Although the strong norm of equitable distribution of grades would predict no gender differentials in grade allocation, the pattern of results suggest that gender plays a role in both the distribution of this reward and the judgment of fair distribution, therefore affecting students’ sense of (in)justice. Similarities as well as certain differences in the comparison of sense of justice of Israeli and German boys and girls are discussed in light of system-specific features.


Adolescence is a period in life in which important investments in ones future have to be made. Adolescents invest in their school career as precondition for an optimal school-to-work transition; they develop the ability to grasp complex social phenomena and with it, a sense of the social map (Simmons & Rosenberg, 1971; Leahy, 1983; Dar, Erhard & Resh, 1998); they learn to trust (or not) societal institutions as a precondition for their civic socialization (Tyler, 1984; Emler & Reicher, 1987); they also invest in romantic relationships as a first step towards starting a family of their own.

These investments of efforts and the development of societal cognitive images depends to a great extent on their life experiences, among which trust of being treated justly by otherspeople and institutionsis necessarily an important component (Tyler, 1984; Gouveia-Pereira, Vala, Palmonari, & Rubini, 2004). It is logical to assume that experiences of justice and/or injustice during this developmental period are the building blocks of sense of trust, of personal empowerment, and of collective, societal images.

Schools are major arenas of justice experiences, where instrumental (e.g., grades, ability-groups placement, certificates) as well as relational (e.g., respect, concern, friendship) rewards are being constantly distributed to students, and their fair or unfair allocation occupy both students and teachers discourses (Deutsch, 1979; Walzer, 1983). Experiencing unfair allocation of rewards throughout schooling may, thus, have a detrimental effect on important aspects of adolescents development, their attitudes, and the shaping of their worldview (e.g., Connell, 1993; Haller, Machura, & Bierhoff, 1995; Saha, 2004; Gouveia-Pereira, Vala, Palmonari, & Rubini 2004; for extensive review, see, Dalbert, 2004).

Among the array of rewards distributed at school, grades stand out as a major reward, looming large in students school experience. Therefore, we focus in this paper on grades in school, and compare gender differentials in the sense of (in)justice about grades among high school students in two countries: Israel and Germany.

Based on our assumption that (a) a sense of injustice arises when an individual perceives a gap between his/her actual and deserved reward (see below), and that (b) both the actual distribution of rewards and the determination of ones entitlement are culturally-bound, we have compared gender differentials in the sense of (in)justice about grades among Israeli and German high school students.

Basically, our investigation revealed gender differences in sense of injustice: Boys experienced a stronger sense of deprivation than girls in all school subjects and in both countries, though these differences were more pronounced in Israel. Unlike our preliminary assumption, sense of injustice was not strongly related to students socioeconomic background. Finally, sense of justice and the evaluation of ones teachers behavior as just were positively associated, hinting at the possibility of school climate effect, and this was especially true in Germany.

Much of the research in the field of justice relates to adults and focuses on their sense of justice about earning, while there is very little knowledge about perceived (in)justice in school. Moreover, there is little intercultural (or intersystem) comparative research in this domain.1 In this sense, the present study should be considered as a pilot investigation that combines inter-societal (cultural) and inter-gender (within societies) comparisons of students evaluations about justice in grade allocation.

In the next section, we will lay out the conceptual framework for this study: (a) the concept of the sense of justice and its explication in the distribution of grades in school; and (b) the possible inter-educational systems and inter-gender differences in the amount of perceived injustice among students. The third and fourth sections will present the research design (samples and variables in the two countries), and the findings of the comparative analysis. In the final section, we will discuss our outcomes and suggest some interpretations to similarities and differences that appeared in our findings.


Fundamental Concepts

Justice analysis is concerned with the investigation of the degree to which individuals or collectives express a sense of (in)justice about the allocation of a specific reward (or punishment); the process and social or psychological antecedents that shape such a sense; and the possible emotional and behavioral outcomes of perception of injustice, especially when it relates to deprivation (under-reward) in the allocation process. A sense of injustice arises when an individual perceives that the reward s/he receives (actual reward) does not match the reward s/he thinks s/he deserves (just reward).2 It is clear, thus, that the evaluation of a reward as fair (or unfair) is a subjective perception, depending on the individuals definition of his or her entitlement compared to the actual received reward (Jasso, 1980; Markovsky, 1985). Ones entitlement is determined through a comparison process where the comparison other may be oneself in the past, others similar in social attributes relevant to the distributed good, or accepted norms and rules of distribution (Berger, Zelditch, Anderson, & Cohen, 1972; Martin, 1981; Markovsky, 1985).3 The result of this comparison is either a sense of justice (when the perceived deserved reward equals the actual reward), or a sense of injustice of two kinds: preferential treatment (when the person is over-rewarded), or deprivation (in the case of under-reward). Based on the notion that deficiency is felt more keenly than comparable access. . . . (and proving it empirically), Jasso (1980, 1993) has formulated the justice evaluation function: J = ln actual reward (A) / just reward (C). We follow this definition in measuring students sense of justice.

Sense of Justice about Grades in School

Evaluating students academic performance and grading them on a hierarchical scale is a universal feature of the schooling process, affecting students educational careers and eventually, their life chances. First, grades have a gatekeeping function in the selection of students to classes, ability grouping, tracks, university entrance, and so on (e.g., Vanfossen, Johns, & Spade, 1987; Dauber, Alexander, & Entwisle, 1996; Resh, 1998; Schiller, 1999). It is reasonable to assume that the effect of grades, and the concern about their fair distribution, will intensify in selective systems, where selection for further educational careers depends very much on students grades. It is also reasonable to assume that this concern is more pronounced at educational transition points, that is, close to points of selection. Second, recent research evidence shows the long-term effect of grades on earning (Miller, 1998), which emphasizes the instrumental value of grades. Third, by providing feedback about students performance, grades shape their self-image, motivation, and future expectations (Seginar, 1983; Nissan, 1982; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999), and contribute to their social acceptance and popularity (Hallinan and Kubischek, 1990). Hence, for most of the students, the grades they receive are a highly valued good (Berger et al., 1972), and their just distribution is of great concern: if the grade they get matches what they believe they deserve, they are pleased. If, however, they receive a grade other than the one they consider as their entitlement, they perceive that they were unfairly treated, whether preferred or deprived.

A sense of justice about grades results from a complex process, which involves both teachers (the allocators) and students (the rewardees). The actual grade is a result of the students learning behavior and academic performance, and the teachers evaluation of that performance. The just (deserved) grade is an outcome of the students ideas about accepted rules and specific criteria that should be used in the distribution of grades, and his or her actual learning performance in the class and school context. Individuals or groups may differ in the degree to which they perceive that they were justly or unjustly graded, as a result of differences in either actual grade (e.g., an individual or a group systematically receive lower grades than another), or deserved grade (the perceived deservedness is higher).

The institutionalization of schools in modern societies (and in the 20th century, across the world) is reflected also in the globalization of certain structural and pedagogical features of schools (see Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Tyack & Tobin, 1994; Rowan & Miskel, 1999). The evaluation of students academic performance, in the form of periodical grading, is a highly institutionalized feature of the teaching-learning process in modern schools, and so are the basic rules that govern grade distribution. The differential allocation on a meritocratic basis (ability/performance, contribution, investment) is the universally accepted norm of allocation, and the principle of need might be also considered (for example, students need for encouragement) to some extent. However, the degree to which the various meritocratic bases will play a role in the determination of actual (and deserved) reward and the weight given to the principal of need is not a clear-cut formula in the process of grading. Beyond individual differences, this weighted combination of meritocratic bases and the need principle may differ between groups and systems, based on cultural and organizational patterns. For example, strong systemic (or school-specific) emphasis on enhancing weak students and decreasing educational gaps may be reflected in the greater weight given to the more egalitarian considerations like investment (effort and learning behavior) and need. By the same token, a conservative pedagogical approach is supposed to be reflected in both teaching method (more frontal) and the evaluation of students (more standardized, i.e., test-oriented), compared to progressive pedagogy, which will tend to introduce alternative evaluation procedures (more individual, less hierarchical).

Both the actual grades and the ideas about just rules of distribution may differ also with regard to different school subjects. The variation in actual grades may stem from variation in the students ability, interest, and motivation in different subjects, or from variation in the criteria used by teachers in different subjects for determining students grades. For example, math teachers may depend mostly on test results, while history teachers may consider students efforts and the interest they express in the subject. Variation in just grades may result also from variations in students ideas about the fair criteria that should be used in the grading of different subjects (e.g., Nissan, 1982; Thorkildsen, Nolen, & Fournier, 1994), or from variation in the importance attributed to grades in different subjects. Hence, variation in students sense of (in)justice in different subjects will be also examined in the gender and country comparisons.

Correlates of Sense of Justice: Antecedents and Implications

Family background characteristics, especially SES and racial/ethnic origin, which serve as personal resources in school learning and academic achievement, are expected to be linked to actual reward allocation. It is also possible that affiliation with a low-status group will generate a more generalized, diffused predisposition to a sense of deprivation (Major & Deaux, 1982; Dar & Resh, 2003): recurring experience of poor achievement and academic failure, linked to lower social group affiliation, may increase ones tendency to perceive oneself as unjustly treated, that is, deprived. This will be especially true if out-of-school social structure is imported into the school and reflected in the classroom academic and social status structure.

School-specific experiences of (un)fairness and deprivation might have a detrimental effect on student development and world-view formation (for a review, see Dalbert, 2004). Sense of injustice will elicit emotional responses, such as  unhappiness, frustration, distress, and anger, all of which impede student motivation (Clayton, 1992; Sprecher, 1992; Mikula, Scherer, & Geneva, 1998; Dalbert & Maes, 2002). It has a negative effect on students sense of empowerment (Dalbert, 2001), and on their legal socialisation (e.g., Gouveia-Pereira, Vala, Palmonari, & Rubini, 2004). Finally, experiences of injustice and their accompanying emotions might motivate behavioural responses like resistance, rebellion, or justice-restoring acts (Stinchcomb, 1964; Willie, 1977).


Gender Differences

There is abundant literature on gender differences in justice distribution in the adult world, especially with regard to earning in the workplace. Earning shares some features with grades in school: both are goods with an instrumental as well as a symbolic value, and the distribution of both is governed by the principal of equity and some concern for need (Deutsch, 1975; Deutsch & Steil, 1988). Implementation of meritocratic rules does not legitimate the use of gender (an ascriptive attribute) as a criterion in the distribution of these goods. However, the empirical evidence in the domain of earning is clear: women systematically earn less than men, but usually do not show greater sense of deprivation, as would be expected, which has led many to investigate this paradox of the contented woman (e.g., Crosby, 1982; Jackson, 1989; Major, 1989; Moore, 1994; Jasso & Webster, 1997). 4 Not matching womens lower pay at work, girls seem to get higher grades in school (e.g., ETS, 1997, in the US; Kfir, 1988; Jasso & Resh, 2002, Resh (2004), in Israel; Dalbert & Maes, 2002, in Germany). Comparing gender differentials in actual grades and in sense of justice about grades in two countries will contribute to the knowledge in the relatively neglected domain of school-related justice research. The comparison of gender differentials in perceived deserved grades may hint at possible sources of boy-girl/school structure/country differences in the sense of (in)justice.

Germany and Israel: Systemic Differences5

Educational systems in both Israel and Germany are relatively selective: at a certain stage of their schooling, students are differentiated into separate tracks organized hierarchically by their future pay-off (type of curriculum and final certificates) and the prestige attached to it. However, the German system is by far more selective: selection occurs after four years of common schooling and students are then placed in separate schools that are also differentiated by number of years of schooling thereafter (five to nine), and that provide a different curriculum and accrue different final certificates that eventually determine differential eligibility to higher education.

In Israel, differentiation is less rigid: selection into tracks occurs after nine years of common schooling, six years of elementary and three years of middle school, and the differentiation into academic and vocational high and low tracks occurs in many cases within one comprehensive school.



Israel: Data were collected in the 2000/01 school year as part of the preliminary phase of the PISA project.6 About 1,000 15-year-old students were drawn from a national sample of 42 schools from both Jewish (religious and non-religious) and Arab sectors.7 The data collection procedure resulted in only about half of them responding to the questions on justice. Since age was the major criteria in the sampling procedure, most of the students were in tenth grade (587 80.4%), but there were a few dozen in either ninth or eleventh grade (51 7.0% and 92 12.6%, respectively). No significant differences were found between grade levels in the dependent variables (sense of justice) and students of all grade levels were considered together in the analyses.

Germany: Data were collected in December 2000/January 2001. About 350 students from grades 9 to 12 participated in the study. All students were drawn from a sample of three academic secondary schools ("Gymnasium"). Their ages varied between 14 and 19 years with a mean age of M = 16.0 years (SD = 1.2). Similar to the Israeli sample, Analysis of variance ANOVA  of sense of justice by grade level was not significant, and we considered all students regardless of age for the purpose of data analysis.


Actual Grades: Students were asked to report their actual grades in three different subjects. In Israel, language (Hebrew), mathematics, and science were asked for; in Germany, language (German), mathematics, and English (as first foreign language). Grades in high school in Israel are measured on a scale of a hundred (or ten), but in effect, 40 is the lowest grade (a strong fail). In Germany, school grades range from 1 (excellent) to 6 (unsatisfactory), comparable to grades A to F in U.S. schools. Grades were recoded: 1 unsatisfactory, 6 excellent.

Deserved grades: In both samples, students were asked to designate the grade they thought they deserved for each given (actual) grade. Thus, deserved grades are coded on the same scales as actual grades.

Sense of Justice: In both countries, sense of justice was measured as a reflexive justice evaluation, where the respondent is the rewardee (Jasso, 1990). Following Jasso (1980, 1990), we calculated for each subject his/her sense of justice as: ln (actual grade/just grade).

The scale of this measure runs from a plus score for over-rewarded students to a minus score for the under-rewarded ones, and 0 designating perfect justice (the student receives his/her deserved grade).

Parents education was measured in both countries as mean of fathers and mothers educational level. In Israel, educational level ranged from 1 did not learn in school, to 6 full academic education. In Germany, educational level ranged from 1 left school before ninth grade, to 5 Ph.D. Since measurement scales were somewhat different in the two studies, Table 1 provides basic distributive information about the parents educational level.

Table 1: Percent of Parents with High School and Academic Education










High School






Academic Education





Parents occupational level was measured in Israel only, by the mean of fathers and mothers occupational prestige on a scale raging from 1 (low) to 99 (high).

Teacher fairness in Israel: This was measured using an index of five items (alpha = .82) evaluating teachers fairness, respect for students, readiness to help, and attention to students needs. Examples of items of this index are: Most of my teachers listen to me and regard my ideas, Most of the teachers treat me fairly. Scores range from 1 not at all, to 4 very much.

Teacher fairness in Germany: Here, the Just School Climate Scale (Dalbert & Stöber, 2002) was applied, consisting of ten items describing the perceived (in)justice of teachers behavior, for example, My teachers generally grade me unjustly, reverse coded (alpha = .88).


Level of Deprivation

We began by comparing the level (degree) of perceived injustice among Israeli and German students in various school subjects (Table 2). Levels of injustice are presented in two forms: first, by the Sense of Justice index and, second, by the distribution of percent of under-, justly, and over-rewarded students. As expected, all means were negative, that is, students in both countries perceived that they were, on average, under-rewarded in the various school subjects. This was also obvious when comparing the percentage of students who felt under- and over-rewarded: relatively few students thought that they were over-rewarded compared to the portion of those who considered themselves deprived.

An opposite finding appeared from the comparison of level of deprivation (means) and rates of deprived students (categorical distribution) in both countries. Although German students showed a higher level of perceived deprivation in all subjects (see second column in Table 2), the categorical distribution revealed that more Israelis felt deprived compared to the German students: about half of the Israelis compared to about a quarter to a third of the Germans felt under-rewarded; a little more than a third among Israelis, compared to about two-thirds Germans perceived that they were justly rewarded. Thus, while a smaller proportion of German students felt deprived, the intensity (or level) of their deprivation was probably greater; while many more Israelis felt unjustly rewarded, a lower level of under-rewarding combined with the modifying effect of about 10% over-rewarded (compared to 2.54.0% among Germans) rendered a lower mean level of deprivation in the Israeli sample. We shall try to interpret this finding in the final part.

Table 2: Distribution of Sense of Justice about Grades Among Israeli and German Students*

Country & Study




% Under-rewarded

% Justly rewarded

% Over-rewarded

Israel Language







Israel Math







Israel Science







Germany Language







Germany Math







Germany English







*Definitions of under-, just- and over-rewarded are given in the text.

One-way ANOVA of sense of justice with school subject as within-subject factor was conducted in each country separately. It showed no significant difference between school subjects among either Israeli or German students (Israel: Wilks lambda = .995, p < .380; Germany: Wilks lambda = .983, p < .065), suggesting that students tend to generalize their sense of (in)justice with regard to their school grades.

Gender Differences in Sense of Deprivation

In a second step, we compared sense of (in)justice by gender (Table 3 below). The findings are different for students of both countries. Systematically, Israeli boys perceived themselves more deprived than their peer girls, and these gender differences reached statistical significance for language and math, but not for science. Although the trend is similar among German students, that is, boys had higher negative means (greater deprivation) compared to girls, none of these differences were significant.

Table 3: Distribution of Sense of Justice about Grades by Gender Israel







% Under-rewarded

% Justly rewarded

% Over- rewarded









































































































Comparing the three-category distribution, there were almost no gender differences in the rates of over-rewarded students. Thus, mean gender differences can be seen as the result of a systematic pattern where a higher percentage of boys felt under-rewarded, while there was a greater tendency among girls to perceive that they were justly rewarded. This was indeed the case in both Israel and Germany, but in both the under-rewarded and the just categories, gender differences seem larger in Israel.

Since the evaluation of justice is the result of the relation between two quantitiesactual and deserved rewardthe stronger sense of deprivation among boys may stem either from their actual lower grades or their higher sense of deservedness compared to girls. We checked this issue in Table 4.

Table 4: Actual and Just Grades by Gender: Israel and Germany




Actual Grade

Deserved Grade







77.06   (13.71)

80.71   (12.36)

81.89   (12.95)

83.45   (11.75)







80.72   (13.34)

82.04   (12.33)

84.75   (13.03)

84.45   (12.75)







83.99   (11.34)

85.37   (11.50)

86.92   (11.80)

85.37   (11.50)







4.54   (.74)

4.91   (.75)

4.81   (.71)

5.12   (.71)







4.35   (.92)

4.28   (1.06)

4.65   (.90)

4.46   (.97)







4.20   (.78)

4.55   (.92)

4.54   (.74)

4.81   (.87)

The outcome with regard to actual grades is clear: with the exception of math in Germany, girls were getting on average better grades than boys. The picture is a little more complicated regarding deserved grades. In both countries, girls thought that they were entitled to a somewhat higher grade than what they received in language than boys, though it seems that differences in deserved grades were smaller than those in actual grades (see also Table 5 below). At the same time, girls thought that they deserved somewhat lower grades in math, though these differences were minor. In Israel, girls felt also that they deserved lower grades in science, while in Germany, girls thought that they deserved higher grades than boys in English. Thus, in math and science compared to language and English, the differences between actual and deserved grade seem to be remarkably higher for boys compared to girls. In sum, one can see common trends and some country-specific features of gender gaps in the distribution of actual and just grades, and hence, in the judgment of their fairness. We summarize these gender relations in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Gender Gap in Actual and Deserved Grades and in Sense of Justice about Grades*




























Sense of Justice







* Gender gap is calculated as the ratio of girls to boys

Girls have an advantage over boys in actual grades, (except for math in Germany). When they also think that they are entitled to a higher gradelanguage in Israel, and language and English in Germanytheir advantage over boys is smaller than that in actual grades. In both countries, their deserved grades are lower in the scientific subjects (science in Israel and math in both countries). The result is a stronger sense of deprivation among boys in both countries and across all subjects, although gender differences were somewhat less intense in Germany and did not reach statistical significance in this sample (as can be seen in Table 3).

Correlates of Sense of Justice: Student Family Background and Perceived Teachers Fairness

Information on social background in these studies is limited to parents educational level and, in the Israeli study, also parents occupational level. Correlations of these background variables and students actual and deserved grades and their sense of justice are presented in Table 6.

Table 6. Correlation with Parents Education and Teachers Fairness

6a:  Israel


Actual Grades

Deserved Grades

Sense of Justice











Parents Education










Parents Occupation










Teachers Fairness










** p < .01, * p < .05. For sense of justice, rank order correlation was computed.

6b: Germany



Actual Grades

Deserved Grades

Sense of Justice











Parents Education










Teachers Fairness










*** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05  For sense of justice, rank order correlation were computed.

All correlations were not very high, showing, however, interesting trends and some differences between Israel and Germany. In Israel, the correlations between parents education and actual grades were unexpectedly very low and mostly insignificant, but were somewhat higher and significant with parents occupation. In Germany, there was a consistent positive relationship between parents education and their childrens actual grades. Deserved grades werewith few exceptionsunrelated to parents background. In both countries, there appears no significant relation between family background and sense of justice, suggesting that perception of deprivation is distributed about equally among students from different socioeconomic groups and giving no support to the notion that a lower socioeconomic status enhances feelings of injustice about grades in school. With some reservation, due to the limited SES measures, we may conclude that the hypothesized predisposition to a stronger sense of deprivation among students from lower social groups is not confirmed in either of the student populations.

Finally, there is a consistent positive and significant relationship between sense of justice and teachers fairness in both countries. Students who perceived their teachers as being fair, tended also to have a higher sense of justice (i.e., felt less deprived) about their grades. This finding is especially salient in comparison to the insignificant relationship of sense of justice and family background. It suggests that sense of justice about grades is a school-related phenomenon: while lower social background does not create a predisposition to sense of injustice, there is a positive relation between the evaluation of teachers as fair and feeling less deprived. A consistent and positive relationship was also revealed in both countries between teacher fairness and actual grades. Students who received better grades evaluated their teachers as more fair. The relationship between teacher fairness and deserved grades were much less consistent: in Germany it was significant and positive for deserved grade in mathematics only, and in Israel this was the case for deserved grades in language and science, but not in mathematics. Moreover, in both samples, correlations between teacher fairness and actual grades were (mostly) stronger than with sense of justice about grades, suggesting that it is mainly the (lower) received grade that drives students to evaluate their teachers as unfair. Indeed, both in Germany and in Israel, the significant relationships between sense of justice and teacher fairness disappear when controlled for actual grades, meaning that it is mostly the actual grades that effect perception of teacher fairness.


This investigation focuses on a little-studied issue: gender differentials in sense of (in)justice in reward allocation at school. The sociological study of schooling has focused much more on the instrumental products of schools: achievement, credentials, movement through educational levels (or dropping out), and less on the social and affective aspects of school life. In these latter aspects, considerable effort was devoted to the investigation of achievement-related variables such as learning motivation, self-image, sense of affiliation and satisfaction with school and teachers. This is also reflected in the abundant research on gender and education that focuses on achievement disparities and educational career paths of boys and girls in various educational systems. Analyses of teachers differential classroom practices and of gender-related representations in school curriculum, textbooks, and other learning materials attempted to explain some of the gender differentials throughout schooling (e.g., Percell, James, Kang, & Snyder, 1999).

Translating the issue of distributive justice and its reflection in individual and collective senses of justice into empirical investigation, and dealing with gender differentials in this respect, is a relatively new strand of research, which has mostly concentrated on earnings in the adult working world.8 In that sense, our study is among the few pioneering empirical investigations that delve into the sense of (in)justice among students in schools. More specifically, we have focused our study on school grades, a highly valued reward, the distribution of which may be an important component of the students school experience that affect their wider social perspectives. Using comparable, though not identical, data in Israel and Germany, we can compare gender differentials in sense of justice about the allocation of this reward in these two countries.

The first interesting finding relates to the considerable portion of students in both countries who judged their grades as unjust, most of them feeling deprived (under-rewarded): about one-third of the German sample and about half of the Israeli one. This suggests that the process of evaluation of student performance is a source of sense of unfairness to many of the students. The seeming contradiction between rates of deprived students (greater in Israel) and mean level of sense of deprivation (higher in Germany) hint probably that a smaller portion of German students perceive that they are more strongly deprived, while a larger proportion of Israeli students sense a lower level of deprivation.

Second, the general trend of gender differentials in sense of injustice about grade is similar in both countries: boys perceive a higher sense of deprivation compared to girls. However, these differences are less intense in Germany (and not statistically significant) compared to Israel, where they are larger and statistically significant in two of the three subjects (language and math).

Though only speculation, we tend to explain differences between countries as related to the systemic educational structure and the sample differences in this specific study. As mentioned already, both countries educational systems are relatively selective, but the German system is by far more selective. The German sample in this study included students from only the highest academic track (Gymnasium), a relatively homogeneous, academically oriented group. Unlike the German group, the Israeli sample in this study is more nationally representative, with students from all sectors and types of high school tracks. It may be that German students attending the selective highest tracks feel more justly treated by their very affiliation with the selective high school, especially if they compare themselves to others in the lower tracks/schools. However, the competitive academic system within the school results in a higher level of deprivation among the fewer (about a third) who sensed deprivation. The inclusion of students of all tracks in the Israeli sample may explain the higher rate, though lower level, of deprived students. The lower gender differences in Germany compared to Israel might also stem from the fact that the selective group of boys and girls are more equally treated in grade allocation and in their perception of deserved grades.

This speculative explanation, that brings up tracking and track structure as a possible cause of a sense of deprivation, and of gender differentials in this regard, should be further investigated in well-planned comparative studies that include boys and girls in different school tracks and school systems.

Unlike much empirical evidence about gender disparities in the educational system, where boys are at an advantage, this is a case of reversed advantage: girls seem to be more satisfied than boys with the process of grade allocation. As a common trend that appears among German and Israeli high school students, this requires an explanation, as does the difference that appears between the two countries in the saliency of this pattern. One possible interpretation of this common trend is the popular notion that girls conform more and are more submissive, accept school norms, and adjust better to their student role. They will thus tend also to agree with their teachers evaluation and to consider their grade as just, to a greater extent than boys. This is also one interpretation for the common phenomenon of womens greater sense of contentment (lower level of sense of deprivation) with their earnings, despite clear evidence for their objective deprivation.

Since sense of (in)justice is an outcome of relations between two quantities, actual and deserved reward, it can arise from either a lower actual reward or a higher perceived deservedness. Investigating these quantities among boys and girls in the two samples (though on a group, not individual, level), sheds light on the pattern of girls advantage and the countries differences in this pattern. Indeed, like in a former Israeli study (Jasso & Resh, 2002) and like other worldwide evidence about grade allocation, girls actual grades are somewhat higher than those given to boys. The only exception is mathematics in Germany, where boys grades are slightly higher than girls. Thus, unlike in the case of earning in the working world, girls do have an advantage in actual grades in schools. This advantage might result from girls better adjustment and behavior, which is reflected in evaluations given by (mainly female) teachers.

The pattern of deservedness vis-à-vis the actual allocation of grades helps explain the lower sense of injustice among girls and the differences between countries in this sense. In Israel it seems that girls are more equitable: gender differences in entitled grades are smaller than differences in actual grades given by teachers. In language, a subject that girls generally tend to do better in than boys, girls think that they deserve a slightly higher grade. In the two scientific subjects, they even think that they deserve less than boys. This may happen either because they indeed lag behind boys in their performance, or it is the first sign of girls lower evaluation of their entitlement (Major, 1993; Moore, 1994; Jasso & Webster, 1997). Thus, getting higher actual grades not accompanied by a parallel higher sense of entitlement explains girls higher sense of justice compared to boys. These gender differences are smaller (and not significant) in Germany, where girls follow more closely the pattern of actual allocation in their determination of entitlement: they think that they are entitled to higher grades than boys in those subjects in which their grades are higher (language and English), and to lower grades in math, a subject in which they actually do get somewhat lower grades. It may be the case that in this selective group, girls indeed excel and think that they deserve accordingly. In any event, there is no sign of under-estimated deservedness among the German girls.

Future research, to be carried out in larger and more representative samples of school systems, is needed in order to better explain both gender and between-country differences in student-experienced (in)justice. Our findings are much more clear-cut in regard to the actual grade distribution, though without controlling for students objective achievement and other achievement-related background variables, it is impossible to decide how to interpret girls advantage. The determination of deserved grades seems a more complicated and less clear dynamic that holds the key to the better understanding of the formation of a sense of justice and gender disparities in this domain. How do students in general, and boys and girls specifically, determine their entitlement? What reference do they use (norms and criteria of allocation, comparison other) when making their judgment about the just reward? Are the differences between countries indeed contextual? If so, which contextual (systemic or school-specific) features affect differences in sense of justice? These are still open questions that deserve substantial further investigation. Since ideas about justice and expectation of societal justice are shaped, to a great extent, in schools, these and other related issues are important and promising in a relatively neglected domain of investigation.

Finally, with relation to both earnings in the adult working world and grades in the students school life, females seem to experience a lower sense of injustice than males, but as an outcome of a different dynamic of the actual and the deserved. It is easier to explain the reverse in the actual allocation, but it is still not clear, and a challenge for future investigation, to follow and understand the process by which girls seemingly equitable entitlement in school turns into a decreased sense of womens entitlement at work. Societal changes that affect gender disparities in education as well as in the work domain may also be reflected in changes in the dynamic of allocation of actual rewards and the determination of their entitlement by boys/men and girls/women. Hence, comparative studies of different school systems and follow-ups at different stages of schooling will contribute to our greater understanding of gender differentials in the formation of a sense of justice.


1 For an exceptional example (in the domain of earnings), see Jasso & Wegener, 1999.

2 The same definition holds when the evaluation of actual vs. just reward is related to any rewardee other than self (see Jasso, 1990).

3 For a detailed discussion, see also Tornblom, 1992; Hedgvedt & Markovsky, 1993.

4 A recent comparative analysis of international data on gender differences in justice evaluation about earning hint at a process of change in this matter. In the mid-nineties, women in most Western countries do reveal a greater sense of deprivation than men, while among women in the Eastern European countries the paradox of contentment prevails (Jasso & Wegener, 1999).

5 Obviously, there are also system-wide socio-cultural differences between the two countries, as well as differences in the political situation (i.e., conflicts within and without the two societies), that may effect notions about justice and sensitivity to injustice. For example, Furnham (2003) found that Israeli students believed less than German ones in a just world (BJW) and accordingly, a higher rate among them felt unjustly treated. However, the German sample in the present study is limited (see the Discussion section) which precludes any wider social system interpretation in this study.

6 PISA is an international project of student assessment organized and controlled by OECD, investigating students (and their schools) at the age of 15. Students of that age are examined within a national sample of schools. Questions that allowed us to investigate the sense of justice were added to the student questionnaire.

7 The Israeli educational system is by and large public, run (and financed) by a relatively centralized administration of the Ministry of Education. Within the public system there is a sub-division into four separate sectors: Jewish general (secular), Jewish religious, Arabic (including Bedouin), and a small, but recently growing, Jewish ultra-orthodox sector.

8 There are also a number of studies investigating gender differentials in the domain of domestic responsibilities (e.g., Major, 1993; Mikula, 1998).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 2, 2007, p. 322-342
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12791, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 11:38:24 AM

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About the Author
  • Nura Resh
    Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    E-mail Author
    NURA RESH is a sociologist, a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research focuses on the stratifying effects of school and class organization and curricular pedagogy, especially in the context of the Israeli educational system and its educational policy. One venue of this interest is the investigation of distributive justice in rewards’ allocation in school and the sense of justice among students and teachers in this respect.
  • Claudia Dalbert
    Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
    E-mail Author
    CLAUDIA DALBERT, is Professor of Psychology at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Her research focuses on the justice motive theory. Currently she is investigating the dissociation of an implicit and a self-attributed justice motive, how the justice motives develop, and the impact of justice experiences at school. She is author of The Justice Motive as a Personal resource: Dealing with Challenges and Critical Life Events and The Justice Motive in Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Origins and Consequences (edited together with Hedvig Sallay). She was president of the International Society of Justice Research (ISJR) (2004-2006), and since 2006 she is Editor of International Journal of Psychology.
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