Kanchewa, S.S., Rhodes, J.E., Schwartz, S.E.O., & Olsho, L.E.W. (in press). An Investigation of Same-versus Cross-gender Matching for Boys in Formal School-based Mentoring Programs. Applied Developmental Science.
Most mentoring programs typically match mentor and mentee by gender. This widespread practice has been supported by theoretical, anecdotal and safety considerations; however, to date, research examining the influence of gender matching within mentoring relationships has presented mixed results. More recently, a greater number of programs, particularly those with a school-based model in which matches meet on school grounds, have begun to pair cross-gender matches largely composed of female mentors with male mentees.
In this study, we explored the role of gender matching on relationship processes including quality, duration and intensity, as well as academic, behavioral and social outcomes.
Male youth (N = 1,513) in the study were part of two of the largest random assignment national evaluations of school-based mentoring (Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program). Within both programs, approximately 20% of the matches were cross-gender, with women serving as mentors to male mentees.
We focused on measures of relationship processes, including the quality of the relationship, the frequency with which matches met, and the duration of the match. We also measured youth’s academic performance and efficacy, future goals, relationships (e.g., peer, parent), and truancy/misconduct.
Across both samples, youth and mentors in same-gender matches were relatively older than those in cross-gender matches. In addition, mentors in same-gender matches tended to be married or living with a partner and to have children.
Within both samples, there were no differences in relationship quality between same- versus cross-gender matches. In contrast, in the BBBS sample, cross-gender matches were longer in duration (approximately 2 weeks longer) and met more frequently relative to same-gender matches (an average of 3.1 versus 2.6 times per month), whereas no differences were found in the ED sample. Across both samples, there were no differences in academic, behavioral and social outcomes between youth in same- versus cross-gender matches.
With only a few exceptions, the findings of this study suggest few differences between same- versus cross-gender mentoring relationships. Despite these findings, some caveats should be noted including the study’s design and sample. More specifically, male youth in the two types of matches (same- and cross-gender) were not randomly assigned into these two conditions. It could be that youth, parents and mentors who request a same-gender match may differ from those who do not on factors that we did not measure. For example, these individuals might consider gender to be an important aspect of their identity. Lastly, most programs do not make cross-gender matches between male mentors and female mentees, which limit the potential to fully examine the effects of gender matching across a variety of relationships.
The findings of this study, if replicated, do not suggest a cross-gender advantage or disadvantage. Although it is important to honor explicit preferences from either youth or parents, and continue efforts to recruit underrepresented groups, programs can also provide training opportunities focused on diversity factors for both mentors and youth including gender that can support mentors across all types of matches in order to meet the needs of diverse youth.