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Do professors really perpetuate the gender gap in science? Evidence from a natural experiment in a French higher education institution

  • Thomas Breda

    (CEP - Centre for Economic Performance - LSE)

  • Son Thierry Ly

    (PSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - CNRS - Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA) - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - École des Ponts ParisTech (ENPC), EEP-PSE - Ecole d'Économie de Paris - Paris School of Economics)

Stereotypes, role models played by teachers and social norms are known to push girls to choose humanities rather than science. Do professors directly contribute to this strong selection by discriminating more against girls in more scientific subjects? Using the entrance exam of a French higher education institution (the Ecole Normale Supérieure) as a natural experiment, we show the opposite: discrimination goes in favor of females in more male-connoted subjects (e.g. math, philosophy) and in favor of males in more female-connoted subjects (e.g. literature, biology), inducing a rebalancing of sex ratios between science and humanities majors. We identify discrimination by systematic differences in students' scores between oral tests (non-blind toward gender) and anonymous written tests (blind toward gender). By making comparisons of these oral/written scores differences between different subjects for a given student, we are able to control both for a student's ability in each subject and for her overall ability at oral exams. The mechanisms likely to drive this positive discrimination toward the minority gender are also discussed.

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Paper provided by HAL in its series PSE Working Papers with number halshs-00677438.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
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Handle: RePEc:hal:psewpa:halshs-00677438
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