When girls had more women teachers to look up to, they were found to be more likely to excel, a new study reports. (Credit: University of Minnesota Extension)

Do girls benefit from being taught by women teachers?

That was what researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research asked, as a number of other recent studies have shown “surprisingly” mixed results – some young women with female teachers today reported better personal and professional outcomes, while others did not, those research efforts found.

NBER suspected female teachers probably do have substantial impact – but primarily in areas where there are relatively few other role models for girls. So the agency decided to go back in time to prove this and studied data from the 1940s, when “there were “few other professional female exemplars other than teachers,” the report, published this month, explained.

When girls had more women teachers to look up to at that time, they were, indeed, found to be more likely to excel in class. But that’s not all – they were also more likely to finish high school, attend college, earn more income as adults, and even live longer, research revealed.

One big reason? Seeing women at the front of their classrooms does wonders to “break down gender-role stereotypes that undermine female students’ educational success.” Plus, seeing “female leadership also increased career aspirations among girls, and eliminated the gender educational gap.”

This study reinforces what we and others have observed in other educational and professional situations: that having women mentors to look up to greatly helps the younger women coming up behind them.

For example, a 2017 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows this pattern replicating itself in STEM settings, where women remain woefully underrepresented

And the women business owners who have taken part in our own 1,000+ Stories project also tell us, often, about the powerful, positive influences women role models have had on their lives and career trajectories – be they mothers (often entrepreneurs themselves), former bosses or successful celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.

“We’re just starting to have a generation of young women that can look around at their babysitters or their neighbor’s mother, or whoever, and say, ‘Oh she doesn’t only work, she owns her own company,’” Susan G. Duffy, an expert and former director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College, has told us. “And that begins to shift things.”