Gender Differences in Persistence in a Field of Study: This Isn’t All about Grades

CAEPR WORKING PAPER SERIES (2022-008)

42 Pages Posted: 5 May 2022

See all articles by Michael Kaganovich

Michael Kaganovich

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Morgan Taylor

University of Georgia

Ruli Xiao

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 28, 2022

Abstract

Weaker retention of women in quantitatively oriented fields, particularly STEM2 is widely seen in US higher education. Focusing particularly on STEM, the literature documents the fact of less generous grading practices in these fields compared to most other disciplines, as well as the phenomenon of gender gap in student persistence in these fields in response to their grade performance there. We examine student persistence in a wide spectrum of academic fields using a rich Indiana University Learning Analytics dataset. To explore the mechanisms that underlie the gender gaps in persistence in different fields we explicitly decompose them into components attributable to the tastes for a field and for the grades in it. We demonstrate that these differences vary in magnitude as well as direction across disciplines. We find that it is women’s (or men’s) weaker preference for a field of study, rather than their possible lower tolerance for bad grades per se, that is predominantly responsible for making them relatively more responsive to bad grades received in it; in fact, we find that men have stronger taste for grades than do women in each of the major academic categories at the University. In particular, we estimate that STEM-starting women are less averse to low grades there than men but have weaker taste for STEM, resulting in their overall lower retention there. Finally, we undertake a counterfactual experiment of relaxing grading standards in STEM and find that, depending on specific structure of students’ taste for grades, this will have at best little effect on women’s inferior retention, and may exacerbate it.

Keywords: college major choice, persistence, sensitivity to grades

JEL Classification: I23, I24, J24, D21

Suggested Citation

Kaganovich, Michael and Taylor, Morgan and Xiao, Ruli, Gender Differences in Persistence in a Field of Study: This Isn’t All about Grades (April 28, 2022). CAEPR WORKING PAPER SERIES (2022-008), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4096925 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4096925

Michael Kaganovich

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Economics ( email )

Wylie Hall
Bloomington, IN 47405-6620
United States

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Morgan Taylor

University of Georgia ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
United States

Ruli Xiao (Contact Author)

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Economics ( email )

Wylie Hall
Bloomington, IN 47405-6620
United States

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