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The Gender Gap in Mathematics: Evidence from Low- and Middle-Income Countries

  • Prashant Bharadwaj
  • Giacomo De Giorgi
  • David Hansen
  • Christopher Neilson

We establish the presence of a gender gap in mathematics across many low- and middle-income countries using detailed, comparable test score data. Examining micro level data on school performance linked to household demographics we note that first, the gender gap appears to increase with age. Indeed, the gap nearly doubles when comparing 4th grade and 8th grade test scores. Second, we test whether commonly proposed explanations such as parental background and investments, unobserved ability, and classroom environment (including teacher gender) explain a substantial portion of the gap. While none of these explanations help in substantially explaining the gender gap we observe, we show that boys and girls differ significantly in perceptions about their own ability in math, conditional on math test scores. Girls are much more likely to state that they dislike math, or find math difficult compared to boys. We highlight differences in self-assessed ability as areas for future research that might lead to a better understanding of the gender gap in math.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18464.

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Date of creation: Oct 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18464
Note: CH DEV ED LS
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  1. Thomas S. Dee, 2007. "Teachers and the Gender Gaps in Student Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(3).
  2. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Yves Duhaldeborde & John H. Tyler, 2000. "How important are the cognitive skills of teenagers in predicting subsequent earnings?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(4), pages 547-568.
  3. Joseph G. Altonji & Erica Blom & Costas Meghir, 2012. "Heterogeneity in Human Capital Investments: High School Curriculum, College Major, and Careers," NBER Working Papers 17985, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Glenn Ellison & Ashley Swanson, 2010. "The Gender Gap in Secondary School Mathematics at High Achievement Levels: Evidence from the American Mathematics Competitions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(2), pages 109-28, Spring.
  5. Scott E. Carrell & Marianne E. Page & James E. West, 2009. "Sex and Science: How Professor Gender Perpetuates the Gender Gap," NBER Working Papers 14959, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Bharadwaj, Prashant & L√łken, Katrine V. & Neilson, Christopher, 2012. "Early Life Health Interventions And Academic Achievement," Working Papers in Economics 13/12, University of Bergen, Department of Economics.
  7. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2010. "An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 210-40, April.
  8. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete too Much?," Discussion Papers 04-030, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  9. Altonji, Joseph G. & Blank, Rebecca M., 1999. "Race and gender in the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 48, pages 3143-3259 Elsevier.
  10. Jeff Grogger & Eric Eide, 1995. "Changes in College Skills and the Rise in the College Wage Premium," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 280-310.
  11. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-66, May.
  12. Goldin, Claudia & Kuziemko, Ilyana & Katz, Lawrence, 2006. "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," Scholarly Articles 2962611, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  13. Alan Krueger & Orley Ashenfelter, 1992. "Estimates of the Economic Return to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," NBER Working Papers 4143, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Uri Gneezy & Muriel Niederle & Aldo Rustichini, 2003. "Performance In Competitive Environments: Gender Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1049-1074, August.
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