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The gender gap in college major: Revisiting the role of pre-college factors

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  • Speer, Jamin D.

Abstract

This paper considers the importance of pre-college test scores in accounting for gender gaps in college major. Large gaps in major content exist: men are more likely to study math-, science-, and business-intensive fields, while women are more likely to study humanities-, social science-, and education-intensive fields. Previous research has found that gender differences in college preparation, typically measured by SAT scores, can account for only a small portion of these differences. Using a broader array of pre-college test scores (the ASVAB), I show that differences in college preparation can actually account for a large portion of most gender gaps in college major content, including 62% of the gap in science, 66% of the gap in humanities, and 47% of the gap in engineering. SAT scores explain less than half as much as the ASVAB scores, while noncognitive skill measures appear to explain none of the gaps in major. The gender gaps in test scores, particularly in science and mechanical fields, exist by the mid-teenage years and grow with age.

Suggested Citation

  • Speer, Jamin D., 2017. "The gender gap in college major: Revisiting the role of pre-college factors," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 69-88.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:44:y:2017:i:c:p:69-88
    DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2016.12.004
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    Cited by:

    1. Judith M. Delaney & Paul J. Devereux, 2019. "It’s not just for boys! Understanding Gender Differences in STEM," Working Papers 201905, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    2. Delaney, Judith M. & Devereux, Paul J., 2021. "High School Rank in Math and English and the Gender Gap in STEM," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(C).
    3. Light, Audrey & Schreiner, Sydney, 2019. "College major, college coursework, and post-college wages," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 73(C).
    4. Jia, Ning, 2021. "Do stricter high school math requirements raise college STEM attainment?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 83(C).
    5. Shimeng Liu & Weizeng Sun & John V. Winters, 2019. "Up In Stem, Down In Business: Changing College Major Decisions With The Great Recession," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(3), pages 476-491, July.
    6. Delaney, Judith M. & Devereux, Paul J., 2019. "Understanding gender differences in STEM: Evidence from college applications✰," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 219-238.
    7. Kugler, Adriana & Tinsley, Catherine H. & Ukhaneva, Olga, 2017. "Choice of Majors: Are Women Really Different from Men?," IZA Discussion Papers 10947, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Jamin D. Speer, 2020. "Where the girls are: Examining and explaining the gender gap in the nursing major," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 67(3), pages 322-343, July.
    9. Yanqing Ding & Wei Li & Xin Li & Yinduo Wu & Jin Yang & Xiaoyang Ye, 2021. "Heterogeneous Major Preferences for Extrinsic Incentives: The Effects of Wage Information on the Gender Gap in STEM Major Choice," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 62(8), pages 1113-1145, December.
    10. Judith M. Delaney & Paul J. Devereux, 2021. "Gender and Educational Achievement: Stylized Facts and Causal Evidence," Working Papers 202103, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    11. Judith M. Delaney & Paul J. Devereux, 2019. "The Effect of High School Rank in English and Math on College Major Choice," Working Papers 201931, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    12. Mcnally, Sandra, 2020. "Gender differences in tertiary education: what explains STEM participation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 108232, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    13. Judith M. Delaney & Paul J. Devereux, 2022. "Gender Differences in STEM Persistence after Graduation," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 89(356), pages 862-883, October.
    14. Astorne-Figari, Carmen & Speer, Jamin D., 2018. "Drop out, switch majors, or persist? The contrasting gender gaps," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 82-85.
    15. Aldén, Lina & Neuman, Emma, 2022. "Culture and the gender gap in choice of major: An analysis using sibling comparisons," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 201(C), pages 346-373.
    16. Delaney, Judith M. & Devereux, Paul J., 2021. "Gender differences in college applications: Aspiration and risk management," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    17. Fernando Saltiel, 2019. "What's Math Got to Do With It? Multidimensional Ability and the Gender Gap in STEM," 2019 Meeting Papers 1201, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    18. Jiang, Xuan, 2021. "Women in STEM: Ability, preference, and value," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(C).
    19. Bordón, Paola & Canals, Catalina & Mizala, Alejandra, 2020. "The gender gap in college major choice in Chile," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 77(C).
    20. David Card & A. Abigail Payne, 2021. "High School Choices And The Gender Gap In Stem," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 59(1), pages 9-28, January.
    21. Eleonora Matteazzi & Martina Menon & Federico Perali, 2021. "Do Boys and Girls Perform Better at Math Just Studying More ?," CHILD Working Papers Series 96 JEL Classification: I2, Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD) - CCA.
    22. Isphording, Ingo E. & Qendrai, Pamela, 2019. "Gender Differences in Student Dropout in STEM," IZA Research Reports 87, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    23. Delaney, Judith & Devereux, Paul J., 2019. "Understanding Gender Differences in STEM: Evidence from College Applications," CEPR Discussion Papers 13558, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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