High School Rank in Math and English and the Gender Gap in Stem

51 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2020 Last revised: 6 Sep 2021

See all articles by Judith Delaney

Judith Delaney

Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI)

Paul J. Devereux

University College Dublin - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Date Written: December 2019

Abstract

Using unique data on preference rankings for all high school students who apply for college in Ireland, we investigate whether, conditional on absolute achievement at the end of high school, within school-cohort rank in English and math affects choice of college major. We find that higher rank in math increases the likelihood of choosing STEM and decreases the likelihood of choosing Arts and Social Sciences. Similarly, a higher rank in English leads to an increase in the probability of choosing Arts and Social Sciences and decreases the probability of choosing STEM. The effects of subject ranks on STEM are larger for boys than girls while there is no evidence of a gender difference in the effect of subject ranks on Arts and Social Sciences. We also find that English and math rank can explain about 4% of the gender gap in the choice of STEM as a college major and 9% of the gender gap that is not explained by absolute achievement. Overall, the tendency for girls to be higher ranked in English and lower ranked in math within school-cohorts can explain about 10% of the difference in the STEM gender gap between mixed-sex schools and same-sex schools and about 25% of the difference that is unexplained by absolute achievement. Notably, these effects occur even though within-school rank plays no role whatsoever in college admissions decisions. Overall, the findings imply behavioral effects of subject rank on college major choices that go beyond their effects on human capital accumulation in school.

JEL Classification: I20, I23

Suggested Citation

Delaney, Judith and Devereux, Paul J., High School Rank in Math and English and the Gender Gap in Stem (December 2019). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP14205, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3518543

Judith Delaney (Contact Author)

Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) ( email )

Whitaker square Sir john Rogerson's Quay
Dublin 2
Dublin
Ireland

Paul J. Devereux

University College Dublin - Department of Economics ( email )

Belfield
Dublin 4, 4
Ireland

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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