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

Michael Kaganovich (), Morgan Taylor () and Ruli Xiao ()
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Morgan Taylor: University of Georgia
Ruli Xiao: Indiana University, Department of Economics

CAEPR Working Papers from Center for Applied Economics and Policy Research, Department of Economics, Indiana University Bloomington

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 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 42 pages
Date: 2022-04
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