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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 24 No. 2 (Spring 2010)

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Geographic Variation in the Gender Differences in Test Scores

Article Citation

Pope, Devin G., and Justin R. Sydnor. 2010. "Geographic Variation in the Gender Differences in Test Scores." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24(2): 95-108.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.2.95

Abstract

The causes and consequences of gender disparities in standardized test scores -- especially in the high tails of achievement -- have been a topic of heated debate. The existing evidence on standardized test scores largely confirms the prevailing stereotypes that more men than women excel in math and science while more women than men excel in tests of language and reading. We provide a new perspective on this gender gap in test scores by analyzing the variation in these disparities across geographic areas. We illustrate that male-female ratios of students scoring in the high ranges of standardized tests vary significantly across the United States. This variation is systematic in several important ways. In particular, states where males are highly overrepresented in the top math and science scores also tend to be states where women are highly overrepresented in the top reading scores. This pattern suggests that states vary in their adherence to stereotypical gender performance, rather than favoring one sex over the other across all subjects. Furthermore, since the genetic distinction and the hormonal differences between sexes that might affect early cognitive development (that is, innate abilities) are likely the same regardless of the state in which a person happens to be born, the variation we find speaks to the nature-versus-nurture debates surrounding test scores and suggests environments significantly impact gender disparities in test scores.

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Authors

Pope, Devin G. (U PA)
Sydnor, Justin R. (Case Western Reserve U)

JEL Classifications

I23: Higher Education and Research Institutions
J16: Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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