Academic Literature

Boys, girls and Educational Choices – What about expected earnings ?

Girls frequently choose educational pathways that lead to lower-paid jobs and less prestigious careers, despite performing as well as boys at school.

Almost everywhere in developed countries, girls and boys have equal access to education and appear equally free to choose their field of study. Nevertheless, educational choices are highly gendered, and the reasons behind this remain somewhat a mystery for economists. According to human capital theory, pupils should make educational decisions that maximize their lifetime incomes. However, girls frequently choose courses that lead to low-paid jobs and less prestigious careers, even though they perform as well at school, if not better, than boys. In particular, girls are more likely to choose Humanities and Health majors, and boys are more likely to choose Engineering and Sciences majors.

Using a cohort of French pupils, we estimate a model of educational choices in which the anticipated cost of choosing a pathway depends on the skills in each subject and is allowed to differ between boys and girls. We show that choices in high school and in higher education are partly driven by expected earnings for boys but less for girls. Boys choose more often courses with a component in Sciences and competitive pathways. In high school, gender differences are higher for pupils at the same level in Mathematics and Humanities and are largely due to differences in marginal impact of test scores, which are lower for girls. In higher education, while partly driven by test scores, choices seem to largely depend on other gender differences (tastes, norms).


• Expected earnings drive the educational choices of boys more so than for girls.

• Girls generally place less value on their test scores in Sciences than boys.

• The gender gap in high school course choices is higher for pupils at the same level in Mathematics and Humanities.

• The gender gap in high school is mainly due to differences in valuation of test scores.

• The gender gap in higher education choices largely come from differences in tastes or norms.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Why do boys and girls make different educational choices? The influence of expected earnings and test scores – ScienceDirect


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