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The ‘Martha Effect’: The compounding female advantage in South African higher education

Author

Listed:
  • Hendrik van Broekhuizen

    (Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP), Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

  • Nic Spaull

    (Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP), Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

Abstract

In this paper we use population-wide panel data to follow every South African student from the 2008 cohort as they enter into and progress through university, following them for six years (N=112,402). We find indisputable evidence of a large female advantage that continues to grow at each hurdle of the higher education process. To be specific, relative to their male counterparts we find 27% more females who qualified for university, 34% more who enroll in university, 56% more who complete any undergraduate qualification and 66% more who attain a bachelor’s degree. This despite there being roughly equal numbers of boys and girls at the start of school. We show that this female advantage remains after controlling for school-level performance, and exists for all subgroups of race, age, socioeconomic status, and province of origin. We examine 19 fields of study and find that females are significantly more likely to get a degree in 12 of the 19 fields (often by substantial margins), and are significantly less likely to get a degree in five of the 19 fields. However, this is almost entirely because they do not access these traditionally ‘male’ programs rather than due to lower completion rates. Irrespective of field of study, race, age, socioeconomic status or location, females are always and everywhere 20% less likely to dropout than their male counterparts (including in traditionally ‘male’ fields like Engineering and Computer Science). Building on the idea of the ‘Matthew Effect’ in reading (the rich get richer), we present evidence of a gendered version of this phenomenon in higher education; what we call the ‘Martha Effect’.

Suggested Citation

  • Hendrik van Broekhuizen & Nic Spaull, 2017. "The ‘Martha Effect’: The compounding female advantage in South African higher education," Working Papers 14/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers290
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Die vele probleme van mans
      by admin in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2019-07-29 06:00:22

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    Cited by:

    1. Melanie Walker, 2019. "The Achievement of University Access: Conversion Factors, Capabilities and Choices," Social Inclusion, Cogitatio Press, vol. 7(1), pages 52-60.
    2. Jacqueline Mosomi, 2019. "Distributional changes in the gender wage gap in the post-apartheid South African labour market," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2019-17, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Heleen Hofmeyr, 2019. "Performance Beyond Expectations: Academic Resilience in South Africa," Working Papers 19/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. Roberts, Gareth & Schöer, Volker, 2021. "Gender-based segregation in education, jobs and earnings in South Africa," World Development Perspectives, Elsevier, vol. 23(C).
    5. Gabrielle Wills & Heleen Hofmeyr, 2018. "Academic Resilience in Challenging Contexts: Evidence From Township and Rural Primary Schools in South Africa," Working Papers 18/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    6. Servaas van der Berg & Gabrielle Wills & Rebecca Selkirk & Charles Adams & Chris van Wyk, 2019. "The cost of repetition in South Africa," Working Papers 13/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Higher education; matric; gender; female advantage;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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