Factors Associated with Academic Achievement for Sexual and Gender Minority and Heterosexual Cisgender Students: Implications from a Nationally Representative Study

  • John FenaughtyEmail author
  • Mathijs F. G. Lucassen
  • Terryann Clark
  • Simon Denny
Empirical Research


Research on sexual and gender minority student achievement indicates that such students report lowered achievement relative to other students. Increased victimization and less school belonging, amongst other factors, have been identified as contributing to these inequalities. However, supportive schooling structures and caregiver support may support their achievement. A nationally representative survey of secondary school students was used to identify specific factors that support achievement for sexual minority (n = 485), gender minority (n = 298), and heterosexual cisgender (where one’s sex assigned at birth “matches” a binary gender identity, i.e., a male assigned at birth identifies as a boy/man, n = 7064) students in New Zealand. While reported victimization did not affect achievement for sexual and gender minority students, school belonging, and teacher expectations of success, emerged as significant factors. Differences emerged between sexual minority and gender minority achievement factors, suggesting a range of detailed policy implications and recommendations.


LGBTQIA+ Students Academic achievement Teacher expectations School belonging 



The authors would like to thank the schools and students that participated in Youth’12. The authors thank Ms Jade Farley and Dr Jade Le Grice for their contributions and reviews of earlier versions of this article.

Author Contributions

JF conceived the study and all authors contributed to its design; JF led the analyses and drafted the manuscript; TC, ML and SD assisted JF to draft the manuscript; TC was the principal investigator for the Youth’12 project and SD was a co-investigator. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in our study involving student participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics committee. Funding: Youth’12 was funded by the Ministries of Youth Development, Social Development, Health, Education, Justice; the Department of Labor, Families Commission; and the Alcohol Advisory Council. The authors also acknowledge Toshiba (Australia) Pty. Limited. The funders of Youth’12 had no role in the design, analysis or writing of this article. Ethical Approval: Ethical approval was obtained from The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (ref 2011/206).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the principal of each participating school as well as from all participating students.


  1. Aragon, S. R., Poteat, V. P., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. W. (2014). The influence of peer victimization on educational outcomes for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ high school students. Journal of LGBT Youth, 11(1), 1–19. Scholar
  2. Birkett, M., Russell, S. T., & Corliss, H. L. (2014). Sexual-orientation disparities in school: the mediational role of indicators of victimization in achievement and truancy because of feeling unsafe. American Journal of Public Health, 104(6), 1124–1128. Scholar
  3. Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. (2009). Te Kotahitanga: addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5), 734–742. Scholar
  4. Buhs, E. S., Ladd, G. W., & Herald, S. L. (2006). Peer exclusion and victimization: processes that mediate the relation between peer group rejection and children’s classroom engagement and achievement? Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 1–13. Scholar
  5. Chiang, S. Y., Fleming, T., Lucassen, M., Fenaughty, J., Clark, T., & Denny, S. (2017). Mental health status of double minority adolescents: findings from national cross-sectional health surveys. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 19(3), 499–510. Scholar
  6. Clark, T. C., Lucassen, M. F. G., Bullen, P., Denny, S. J., Fleming, T. M., Robinson, E. M., & Rossen, F. V. (2014). The health and well-being of transgender high school students: results from the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey (Youth’12). Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(1), 93–99. Scholar
  7. Clark, T., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Crengle, S., Denny, S., & Dyson, B., et al. (2013). Health and well-being of secondary school students in New Zealand: trends between 2001, 2007 and 2012. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 49(11), 925–934. Scholar
  8. Craig, S. L., & Smith, M. S. (2014). The impact of perceived discrimination and social support on the school performance of multiethnic sexual minority youth. Youth and Society, 46(1), 30–50. Scholar
  9. Cutrona, C. E., Cole, V., Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Russell, D. W. (1994). Perceived parental social support and academic achievement: an attachment theory perspective [published erratum appears in J Pers Soc Psychol 1994 Apr;66(4):687]. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(2), 369–378. Scholar
  10. Denny, S., Lewycka, S., Utter, J., Fleming, T., Peiris-John, R., & Sheridan, J., et al. (2016). The association between socioeconomic deprivation and secondary school students’ health: findings from a latent class analysis of a national adolescent health survey. International Journal for Equity in Health, 15(1), 109 Scholar
  11. DePalma, R., & Jennett, M. (2010). Homophobia, transphobia and culture: deconstructing heteronormativity in English primary schools. Intercultural Education, 21(1), 15–26. Scholar
  12. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59–109. Scholar
  13. Friedman, M. S. M. S., Silvestre, A. J., Gold, M. A., Markovic, N., Savin-Williams, R. C., Huggins, J., & Sell, R. L. (2004). Adolescents define sexual orientation and suggest ways to measure it. Journal of Adolescence, 27(3), 303–317. Scholar
  14. Friedman, M. S., Marshal, M. P., Guadamuz, T. E., Wei, C., Wong, C. F., Saewyc, E. M., & Stall, R. (2011). A meta-analysis of disparities in childhood sexual abuse, parental physical abuse, and peer victimization among sexual minority and sexual nonminority individuals. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1481–1494. Scholar
  15. Henrickson, M. (2008). “You have to be strong to be gay”: bullying and educational attainment in LGB New Zealanders. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 19(3–4), 67–85. Scholar
  16. Hinnant, J. B., O’Brien, M., & Ghazarian, S. R. (2009). The longitudinal relations of teacher expectations to achievement in the early school years. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 662–670. Scholar
  17. Jussim, L., & Harber, K. D. (2005). Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(2), 131–155. Scholar
  18. Juvonen, J., Nishina, A., & Graham, S. (2000). Peer harassment, psychological adjustment, and school functioning in early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(2), 349–359.
  19. King, G., McDougall, J., DeWit, D., Hong, S., Miller, L., & Offord, D., et al. (2005). Pathways to children’s academic performance and prosocial behaviour: roles of physical health status, environmental, family, and child factors. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 52(4), 313–344. Scholar
  20. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., & Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
  21. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York.
  22. Lang, K. (2002). Measuring ethnicity in the New Zealand census. Wellington, New Zealand: Statistics New Zealand.Google Scholar
  23. Lucassen, M. F. G., Clark, T. C., Moselen, E., Robinson, E. M., & The Adolescent Health Research Group. (2014). Youth’12 The health and wellbeing of secondary school students in new zealand: results for young people attracted to the same sex or both sexes. Auckland.
  24. Lucassen, Mathijs F.G., Clark, T. C., Denny, S. J., Fleming, T. M., Rossen, F. V., Sheridan, J., et al. (2015). What has changed from 2001 to 2012 for sexual minority youth in New Zealand? Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.
  25. Lucassen, M. F. G., Merry, S. N., Robinson, E. M., Denny, S., Clark, T., & Ameratunga, S., et al. (2011). Sexual attraction, depression, self-harm, suicidality and help-seeking behaviour in New Zealand secondary school students. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45(5), 376–383. Scholar
  26. McGuire, J. K., Anderson, C. R., Toomey, R. B., & Russell, S. T. (2010). School climate for transgender youth: a mixed method investigation of student experiences and school responses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(10), 1175–1188. Scholar
  27. Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review, 8(2), 193–210. Scholar
  28. Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674–697. Scholar
  29. Ministry of Education. (n.d.). New Zealand education system overview.
  30. Murdock, T. B., & Bolch, M. B. (2005). Risk and protective factors for poor school adjustment in lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school youth: variable and person-centered analyses. Psychology in the Schools, 42(2), 159–172. Scholar
  31. Nettles, S. M., Mucherah, W., & Jones, D. S. (2000). Understanding resilience: The role of social resources. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 5(1–2), 47–60. Scholar
  32. New Zealand Qualifications Authority. (2017). Annual report on NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship Data and Statistics (2016).
  33. Nusche, D., Laveault, D., Macbeath, J., & Santiago, P. (2012). OECD reviews of evaluation and assessment in education: New Zealand 2011.
  34. Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323–367. Scholar
  35. Oyserman, D., & Sakamoto, I. (1997). Being Asian American: identity, cultural constructs, and stereotype perception. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 33(4), 435–453. Scholar
  36. Pearson, J., Muller, C., & Wilkinson, L. (2007). Adolescent same-sex attraction and academic outcomes: the role of school attachment and engagement. Social Problems, 54(4), 523–542. Scholar
  37. Pizmony-Levy, O., & Kosciw, J. G. (2016). School climate and the experience of LGBT students: a comparison of the United States and Israel. Journal of LGBT Youth, 13(1–2), 46–66. Scholar
  38. Pomerantz, E. M., Moorman, E. A., & Litwack, S. D. (2007). The how, whom, and why of parents’ involvement in children’s academic lives: more is not always better. Review of Educational Research, 77(3), 373–410. Scholar
  39. Poteat, V. P., Mereish, E. H., DiGiovanni, C. D., & Koenig, B. W. (2011). The effects of general and homophobic victimization on adolescents’ psychosocial and educational concerns: the importance of intersecting identities and parent support. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(4), 597–609. Scholar
  40. Reijntjes, A., Kamphuis, J. H., Prinzie, P., & Telch, M. J. (2010). Peer victimization and internalizing problems in children: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Child Abuse and Neglect, 34(4), 244–252. Scholar
  41. Rostosky, S. S., Owens, G. P., Zimmerman, R. S., & Riggle, E. D. (2003). Associations among sexual attraction status, school belonging, and alcohol and marijuana use in rural high school students. Journal of Adolescence, 26(6), 741–751.
  42. Russell, S., & Fish, J. (2016). Mental health in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 12(1), 465–487. Scholar
  43. Russell, S. T., & Truong, N. L. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and school environments: a national study of sexual minority youth of color. In K. K. Kumashiro (Ed.), Troubling intersections of race and sexuality: queer students of color and anti-oppressive education (pp. 113–130). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  44. Russell, S. T., Seif, H., & Truong, N. L. (2001). School outcomes of sexual minority youth in the United States: Evidence from a national study. Journal of Adolescence, 24(1), 111–127. Scholar
  45. Seelman, K. L., Forge, N., Walls, N. E., & Bridges, N. (2015). School engagement among LGBTQ high school students: the roles of safe adults and gay–straight alliance characteristics. Children and Youth Services Review, 57, 19–29. Scholar
  46. Seelman, K. L., Walls, N. E., Hazel, C., & Wisneski, H. (2012). Student school engagement among sexual minority students: understanding the contributors to predicting academic outcomes. Journal of Social Service Research, 38(1), 3–17. Scholar
  47. Toomey, R. B., & Russell, S. T. (2013). Gay-straight alliances, social justice involvement, and school victimization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer youth: implications for school well-being and plans to vote. Youth & Society, 45(4), 500–522. Scholar
  48. UNESCO. (2017). 2017/8 Global education monitoring report accountability in education: meeting our committments (Second.). Paris, France: Author.
  49. Watson, R. J., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2019). Sources of social support and mental health among LGB youth. Youth & Society, 51(1), 30–48. Scholar
  50. Watson, R. J., & Russell, S. T. (2016). Disengaged or bookworm: academics, mental health, and success for sexual minority youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(1), 159–165. Scholar
  51. Webber, M., Mckinley, E., & Hattie, J. (2013). The importance of race and ethnicity: an exploration of New Zealand Pākehā, Māori, Samoan and Chinese adolescent identity. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(2), 17–28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Fenaughty
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mathijs F. G. Lucassen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Terryann Clark
    • 4
  • Simon Denny
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work, Faculty of Education and Social WorkUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language StudiesThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  4. 4.School of Nursing, Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  5. 5.Department of Paediatrics, Child and Youth Health, Faculty of Medical and Health SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations