By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff, at the BA festival
Female undergraduates work harder and are more open-minded than males, helping a higher proportion than men to get good marks in their degrees.
Women reap the rewards of hard work
Those are the findings of a new study by British psychologists who probed the reasons why more women than men get degrees of 2:1 or above.
However, they found support for the observation that a higher proportion of men obtain first class degrees.
The results were presented at the BA Festival of Science in Exeter.
They confirm females are under-represented in so-called "hard science" degrees, but these are the subjects with a disproportionately high number of firsts.
So while women will generally tend to get more "good" degrees because they apply themselves more, men will get more "top" degrees because five times more of them will do computer studies or some other difficult course.
"If you take out those students taking hard science subjects there is no gender gap favouring men," said Dr Tom Farsides of the University of Sussex.
"The gender gap favouring women seemed to be superior academic qualities, and the gender gap favouring men seemed to be because men tended to study hard science subjects to a greater extent."
The data comes from a study in which 1,200 undergraduates were asked to complete a battery of psychological questionnaires.
Their academic achievement and behaviour in relation to their studies was tracked over three years.
How hard the students applied themselves was measured by their attendance at seminars and how many pieces of coursework they submitted which did not count towards their degree.
"Application was far and away the strongest and most reliable indicator of academic performance," Dr Farsides said.
Another study presented at Exeter by Professor Bernice Andrews of Royal
Holloway, University of London, gave 351 students a questionnaire that measured and then scored symptoms of anxiety and depression before and after starting university.
"Of those students without anxiety and depression before they entered, 9% had developed a depressive condition by mid-course and 20% had developed an anxiety condition by mid-course," said Professor Andrews.
"We found financial problems had the strongest, most independent relationship with depression."
Dr John Wilding, also of Royal Holloway, explained that, according to their motivations, students tended to fall into three categories.
Some were driven by the desire for wealth and status, others were motivated by altruism, and some were motivated by their desire for a family.
"Those who were after wealth and status had a worse average mark in their second year," said Dr Wilding.
"This has to be tentative because we didn't expect any such result and can't test the reasons.
"They may be active in student politics, sport etc and their activities may be devoted towards that rather than degree work," he added.
"Also, they may not see the grind of their degree as being related to their ultimate goals."