Dynamics of the Gender Gap in High Math Achievement

50 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2018 Last revised: 20 Apr 2019

See all articles by Glenn Ellison

Glenn Ellison

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Ashley Swanson

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School; NBER

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 9, 2019

Abstract

This paper examines the dynamics of the gender gap over the high school years among high scorers on the American Mathematics Competitions. A clear gender gap is already present by 9th grade and the gender gap widens over the high school years. High-achieving students must substantially improve their performance from year to year to maintain their within-cohort rank, but there is nonetheless a great deal of persistence in the rankings. Several gender-related differences in the dynamics contribute to the widening of the gender gap, including differences in the rates with which male and female students stop participating in the contests, and in the mean and variance of year-to-year improvements among those who continue. A decomposition indicates that the most important difference is that fewer girls make large enough gains to move up substantially in the rankings. An analysis of students on the margin of qualifying for a prestigious second stage exam provides evidence of a discouragement effect: some react to falling just short by dropping out of participating in future years, and this reaction may be more common among girls.

JEL Classification: I20, J16

Suggested Citation

Ellison, Glenn David and Swanson, Ashley, Dynamics of the Gender Gap in High Math Achievement (April 9, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3240959 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3240959

Glenn David Ellison

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Ashley Swanson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

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Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

NBER ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
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