Stronger, Smarter, Bolder: Girls Take the Lead

Girls and young women face a variety of obstacles to physical and socioeconomic well-being, inequity in educational opportunities, and tend to be discouraged from speaking up for themselves and others. These challenges can result from poverty, bias, health issues, and trauma. When girls are healthy, educated, supported, and engaged, they are more likely to succeed both academically, as well as socially and emotionally.

Girls Inc., founded in 1864, provides comprehensive, research-based programs and activities for girls at sites across the United States. Girls Inc. also fosters sisterhood by providing opportunities for girls to develop and benefit from lasting mentoring relationships with adults and peers in a safe and respectful girls-only environment.

Research Study

In 2017, Girls Inc. partnered with AIR on a two-year evaluation. The study consisted of a quasi-experimental design that compared girls in Girls Inc. with a similar group of non-participating girls using two main data sources:

  • The Strong, Smart, and Bold Outcomes Survey, a self-reported survey of girls ages 9 to 18 measuring indicators of success in healthy living, academic success, and life skills or social and emotional development and character; and
  • Academic and behavioral data from partner schools and districts.

Using this data, covering more than 1,000 girls, AIR researchers examined the differences between the academic and behavioral outcomes of Girls Inc. girls and the non-participating girls using multilevel regression models. AIR also examined whether differences in outcomes between these two groups varied depending on certain characteristics, including age group (youth 9-12 and teens 13-18), race/ethnicity, enrollment in a special education program, English language learner status, and free or reduced-price lunch status.


The final report showed that, compared to girls who did not participate in the Girls Inc. program, Girls Inc. girls were more likely to express beliefs that led to improved physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and strong character and leadership.

More specifically, Girls Inc. girls were more likely to:

  • Report more positive attitudes and behaviors across 19 of a possible 28 outcomes in the Strong, Smart, and Bold survey domains. For example, Girls Inc. girls reported higher postsecondary readiness, school engagement, and leadership skills than similar non-participating girls.
  • Have higher mathematics achievement test scores than similar non-participating girls.
  • Have higher school-day attendance rates and lower suspension rates than similar non-participating girls.
Image of Melissa Yisak
Senior Researcher