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CentrePiece Article
Science: why the gender gap?
Thomas Breda and Son Thierry Ly
December 2012
Paper No' CEPCP386:
Full Paper (pdf)

CentrePiece 17 (3) Winter 2012

JEL Classification: I23; J16

Tags: discrimination; gender stereotypes; natural experiment; sex and science

Stereotypes, role models played by teachers and social norms influence girls’ academic self-concept and push girls to choose humanities rather than science. Do recruiters reinforce this strong selection by discriminating more against girls in more scientific subjects? Using the entrance exam of a French higher education institution (the Ecole Normale Supérieure) as a natural experiment, we show the opposite: discrimination goes in favor of females in more male-connoted subjects (e.g. math, philosophy) and in favor of males in more female-connoted subjects (e.g. literature, biology), inducing a rebalancing of sex ratios between students recruited for a research career in science and humanities majors. We identify discrimination by systematic differences in students’ scores between oral tests (non-blind toward gender) and anonymous written tests (blind toward gender). By making comparisons of these oral/written scores differences between different subjects for a given student, we are able to control both for a student’s ability in each subject and for her overall ability at oral exams. The mechanisms likely to drive this positive discrimination toward the minority gender are also discussed.

This article summarises ‘Do Professors Really Perpetuate the Gender Gap in Science? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in a French Higher Education Institution’ by Thomas Breda and Son Thierry Ly, Centre for the Economics of Education Discussion Paper No.138, June 2012.