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Born in the Family: Preferences for Boys and the Gender Gap in Math


  • Dossi, Gaia
  • Figlio, David
  • Giuliano, Paola
  • Sapienza, Paola


We study the correlation between parental gender attitudes and the performance in mathematics of girls using two different approaches and data. First, we identify families with a preference for boys by using fertility stopping rules in a population of households whose children attend public schools in Florida. Girls growing up in a boy-biased family score 3 percentage points lower on math tests when compared to girls raised in other families. Second, we find similar strong effects when we study the correlations between girls' performance in mathematics and maternal gender role attitudes, using evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. We conclude that socialization at home can explain a non-trivial part of the observed gender disparities in mathematics performance and document that maternal gender attitudes correlate with those of their children, supporting the hypothesis that preferences transmitted through the family impact children behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Dossi, Gaia & Figlio, David & Giuliano, Paola & Sapienza, Paola, 2019. "Born in the Family: Preferences for Boys and the Gender Gap in Math," CEPR Discussion Papers 13504, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:13504

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Figlio & Jonathan Guryan & Krzysztof Karbownik & Jeffrey Roth, 2014. "The Effects of Poor Neonatal Health on Children's Cognitive Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(12), pages 3921-3955, December.
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    Blog mentions

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    1. Born in the Family: Preferences for Boys and the Gender Gap in Math
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2019-03-27 14:35:07


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    Cited by:

    1. Francesco D'Acunto & Ulrike Malmendier & Michael Weber, 2020. "Gender Roles and the Gender Expectations Gap," Working Papers 2020-11, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    2. 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.
    3. Zichen Deng & Maarten Lindeboom, 2020. "A Bit of Salt a Trace of Life - Gender Norms and The Impact of a Salt Iodization Program on Human Capital Formation of School Aged Children," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 20-067/V, Tinbergen Institute.
    4. Nolan, Anne & Whelan, Adele & McGuinness, Seamus & Maître, Bertrand, 2019. "Gender, pensions and income in retirement," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS87, November.
    5. Deng, Zichen & Lindeboom, Maarten, 2019. "A Bit of Salt, a Trace of Life: Gender Norms and the Impact of a Salt Iodization Program on Human Capital Formation of School Aged Children," IZA Discussion Papers 12629, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Bordón, Paola & Canals, Catalina & Mizala, Alejandra, 2020. "The gender gap in college major choice in Chile," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 77(C).
    7. Peter Siminski & Rhiannon Yetsenga, 2020. "Rethinking Specialization and the Sexual Division of Labor in the 21st Century," Working Paper Series 2020/04, Economics Discipline Group, UTS Business School, University of Technology, Sydney.
    8. Katharina Heisig, 2019. "Vom Sinn einer geschlechtsneutralen Erziehung und Bildung," ifo Dresden berichtet, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 27(02), pages 12-16, April.
    9. Di Tommaso, Maria Laura & Contini, Dalit & De Rosa, Dalila & Piazzalunga, Daniela, 2020. "Tackling the Gender Gap in Math with Active Learning Teaching Practices," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 202016, University of Turin.
    10. 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.

    More about this item


    cultural transmission; gender differences; Math Performance;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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