TY - JOUR
T1 - Girls’ comparative advantage in reading can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields
JF - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
JO - Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
SP - 15435
LP - 15440
DO - 10.1073/pnas.1905779116
VL - 116
IS - 31
AU - Breda, Thomas
AU - Napp, Clotilde
Y1 - 2019/07/30
UR - http://www.pnas.org/content/116/31/15435.abstract
N2 - Women remain strongly underrepresented in math-related fields. This phenomenon is problematic because it contributes to gender inequalities in the labor market and can reflect a loss of talent. The current state of the art is that students’ abilities are not able to explain gender differences in educational and career choices. Relying on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data, we show that female students who are good at math are much more likely than male students to be even better in reading. As a consequence, the difference between 15-y-old students’ math and reading abilities, which is likely to be determined by earlier socialization processes, can explain up to 80% of the gender gap in intentions to pursue math-studies and careers.Gender differences in math performance are now small in developed countries and they cannot explain on their own the strong underrepresentation of women in math-related fields. This latter result is however no longer true once gender differences in reading performance are also taken into account. Using individual-level data on 300,000 15-y-old students in 64 countries, we show that the difference between a student performance in reading and math is 80% of a standard deviation (SD) larger for girls than boys, a magnitude considered as very large. When this difference is controlled for, the gender gap in students’ intentions to pursue math-intensive studies and careers is reduced by around 75%, while gender gaps in self-concept in math, declared interest for math or attitudes toward math entirely disappear. These latter variables are also much less able to explain the gender gap in intentions to study math than is students’ difference in performance between math and reading. These results are in line with choice models in which educational decisions involve intraindividual comparisons of achievement and self-beliefs in different subjects as well as cultural norms regarding gender. To directly show that intraindividual comparisons of achievement impact students’ intended careers, we use differences across schools in teaching resources dedicated to math and reading as exogenous variations of students’ comparative advantage for math. Results confirm that the comparative advantage in math with respect to reading at the time of making educational choices plays a key role in the process leading to women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields.
ER -