Purdue University Graduate School
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Essays on Gender Gaps in STEM

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posted on 2023-07-14, 12:18 authored by Amrita SanyalAmrita Sanyal

This dissertation explores the issue of under-representation of women in STEM fields in high school and the early years of college. One of the major contributors to the persisting gender earnings gap is male-domination in the STEM workforce. Women are under-represented in STEM occupations since they are less likely than men to take advanced STEM courses in high school and to choose STEM majors in college. While the gender STEM gap does not exist at early ages according to most studies, it has been shown that girls start to lag behind boys in Math tests after middle school.

In Chapter 1, I investigate the STEM gender gap in the context of teacher-student gender matching. Using a fixed-effects regression model, and Chilean administrative education data on SIMCE and PSU exams and college application, I explore whether high school girls perform better in Language and Math when they have female teachers, and whether a female Math teacher impacts girls’ preference towards STEM programs when enrolling in college. I find that female teachers improve girls’ overall performance in high school Math exams for all school types, and college entrance exam Math scores for public school girls. However, they negatively affect girls’ probability of choosing STEM majors when enrolling in college. They negatively affect boys’ high school and college entrance exam Language performance and private school boys’ college entrance exam Math performance, but positively affect boys’ college STEM preference. The presence of female Math teachers in high school has negative effects on both boys’ and girls’ college entrance exam Science scores. There is significant heterogeneity in these effects between public, voucher and private schools. The negative preference effect is significant only for

high-performing girls.

Chapter 2 uses restricted NCES data (HSLS:2009 and ELS:2002) and difference-in-difference methodology to explore whether the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top (RTT) program of 2009 had impacts on overall educational and enrollment outcomes, and gender gaps in these outcomes for high school students in the US. Besides the major objective of making students better prepared for college and future careers, a significant aspect of the RTT program was its emphasis on reducing barriers to women’s entry and success in STEM fields in higher education and the STEM workforce. I find that the program was not successful in fulfilling the major objectives of improving students’ educational outcomes, reducing achievement gaps or improving women’s representation and performance in STEM fields. It prompted students to take fewer and easier courses in high school and increased gender gaps in 12th grade GPA and SAT Math score. While there was a modest reduction in the gender gap in first year college GPA, there were neither any improvements in boys’ or girls’ college STEM credits and grades, nor

any reduction in gender gaps in these outcomes.

In Chapter 3, I use the same restricted NCES data as in Chapter 2, data on state policy obtained from Howell and Magazinnik (2017) and difference-in-difference methodology to explore whether states’ adoption of “college and career ready” common K-12 standards affected the overall educational and enrollment outcomes of high school students in the US and gender gaps in these outcomes. I use the 2009 Race to the Top (RTT) program as a source of exogenous variation, since one of the major policies promoted by the program was the adoption of higher K-12 standards across the US. I find that the tougher standards led to students taking relatively more non-STEM oriented, and thus arguably “easier” courses and increased gender gaps in STEM coursetaking.

Notably, they drove low performing girls out of college education, which resulted in a more competitive college-going female population. This in turn, led girls to outperform boys once enrolled in college, specially in STEM courses. Thus, common standards-adoption whose goal was to improve college and career readiness failed in this endeavor, but made the pool of college-going women more competitive and inadvertently levelled the playing field

for college-bound women.


Purdue University Research and Teaching Assistantship


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Economics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Miguel Sarzosa

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Timothy Bond

Additional Committee Member 2

Victoria Prowse

Additional Committee Member 3

Kevin J. Mumford