School Quality and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement

New Findings, School Reform, May 2016

Women have sur­passed men in edu­ca­tional attain­ment through­out the devel­oped world. In 2011, the ratio of female to male col­lege com­ple­tion rates exceeded unity in 29 of 34 OECD coun­tries, with just Chile, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Turkey hav­ing higher rates of male col­lege com­ple­tion. In the United States, the female high school grad­u­a­tion rate at present exceeds the male rate by 5 per­cent­age points, and the female col­lege grad­u­a­tion rate exceeds the male rate by 7 per­cent­age points (Autor and Wasserman 2013). What explains these gen­der gaps in edu­ca­tional attain­ment? Recent evi­dence indi­cates that boys and girls are dif­fer­ently affected by the quan­tity and qual­ity of inputs received in childhood. We com­ple­ment this dis­parate evi­dence by pro­vid­ing pow­er­ful and tightly con­trolled esti­mates of the causal effect of school qual­ity on the gen­der gap in test scores and behav­ioral out­comes. We find that boys ben­e­fit more from cumu­la­tive expo­sure to higher-quality schools—measured using school level gain scores in read­ing and math­e­mat­ics— than do their sisters.