An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics

49 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2009 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010

Roland G. Fryer

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; University of Chicago

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

Date Written: October 2009

Abstract

We document and analyze the emergence of a substantial gender gap in mathematics in the early years of schooling using a large, recent, and nationally representative panel of children in the United States. There are no mean differences between boys and girls upon entry to school, but girls lose more than two-tenths of a standard deviation relative to boys over the first six years of school. The ground lost by girls relative to boys is roughly half as large as the black-white test score gap that appears over these same ages. We document the presence of this gender math gap across every strata of society. We explore a wide range of possible explanations in the U.S. data, including less investment by girls in math, low parental expectations, and biased tests, but find little support for any of these theories. Moving to cross-country comparisons, we find that earlier results linking the gender gap in math to measures of gender equality are sensitive to the inclusion of Muslim countries, where in spite of women's low status, there is little or no gender gap in math.

Suggested Citation

Fryer, Roland G. and Levitt, Steven D., An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics (October 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15430. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1493042

Roland G. Fryer (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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American Bar Foundation

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University of Chicago ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-1862 (Phone)
773-702-8490 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

American Bar Foundation

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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