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Geographic Variation in the Gender Differences in Test Scores

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  • Devin G. Pope
  • Justin R. Sydnor

Abstract

The causes and consequences of gender disparities in standardized test scores -- especially in the high tails of achievement -- have been a topic of heated debate. The existing evidence on standardized test scores largely confirms the prevailing stereotypes that more men than women excel in math and science while more women than men excel in tests of language and reading. We provide a new perspective on this gender gap in test scores by analyzing the variation in these disparities across geographic areas. We illustrate that male-female ratios of students scoring in the high ranges of standardized tests vary significantly across the United States. This variation is systematic in several important ways. In particular, states where males are highly overrepresented in the top math and science scores also tend to be states where women are highly overrepresented in the top reading scores. This pattern suggests that states vary in their adherence to stereotypical gender performance, rather than favoring one sex over the other across all subjects. Furthermore, since the genetic distinction and the hormonal differences between sexes that might affect early cognitive development (that is, innate abilities) are likely the same regardless of the state in which a person happens to be born, the variation we find speaks to the nature-versus-nurture debates surrounding test scores and suggests environments significantly impact gender disparities in test scores.

Suggested Citation

  • Devin G. Pope & Justin R. Sydnor, 2010. "Geographic Variation in the Gender Differences in Test Scores," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(2), pages 95-108, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:24:y:2010:i:2:p:95-108
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.2.95
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/app/2402_Pope_Sydnor_appendix.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Ming-Ching Luoh, 2003. "Gender Differences in Completed Schooling," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(3), pages 559-577, August.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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