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What Explains the Gender Gap Reversal in Educational Attainment ?


  • Bossavie,Laurent Loic Yves
  • Kanninen,Ohto


The reversal of the gender gap in educational attainment is becoming a global phenomenon. Its drivers, however, are not well understood and remain largely untested empirically. This paper develops a unified conceptual framework that allows to formulate and test two main hypotheses for the reversal. It introduces the tail hypothesis, which builds on the lower dispersion of scholastic performance among females observed globally. It also formalizes the mean hypothesis, which states that females'average scholastic performance and returns to education have increased over time relative to males'. The paper theoretically shows that both hypotheses can explain the reversal in our framework. The parameters of the two hypotheses derived from the model are then estimated using educational attainment data from 1950 to 2010 in more than 100 countries. The authors find that both hypotheses strongly predict the gender gap dynamics in educational attainment when estimated separately. When jointly estimated, accounting for the tail hypothesis significantly increases the model's predictive power. The contribution of the tail hypothesis to the gender gap reversal, while the mean hypothesis appears to prevail in high-income countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Bossavie,Laurent Loic Yves & Kanninen,Ohto, 2018. "What Explains the Gender Gap Reversal in Educational Attainment ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8303, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:8303

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    Cited by:

    1. Friedman-Sokuler, Naomi & Justman, Moshe, 2020. "Gender, culture and STEM: Counter-intuitive patterns in Arab society," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 74(C).


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