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Gender Differences in Networks

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon J
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Claudia Olivetti, Boston College

Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models

Danila Serra
Southern Methodist University
Catherine Porter
Heriot-Watt University


Women have been traditionally underrepresented in numerous fields of study. While in the last two decades many disciplines, including STEM, have made significant progress in
attracting and retaining women, there has been little improvement in the field of economics, which remains heavily male-dominated. We report results from a field experiment aimed
at increasing the percentage of women majoring in economics through exposure to female role models.

We found that while the intervention had no impact one male students, it significantly increased the percentage of women planning to major in economics (survey-based). The intervention had an even stronger effect on the probability that a female student enrolled in an intermediate economics class the semester following the role model's visits. The effect of the intervention is especially large and persistent over time for female students that got an A in the principle class. For these top students, the intervention seems to have completely eliminated the gender gap in enrollment in a higher level economics class. Overall, our study provides strong evidence of the importance of female role models on young women's decision to self-select into a male-dominated field of study.

Does Collaboration Improve Female Representation in Academic Fields?

Soohyung Lee
Sogang University
Benjamin Malin
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis


This paper examines the extent to which collaboration affects female representation in academic fields. Over the past half century, gender gaps have narrowed along many dimensions, including college enrollment, labor market participation, and earnings. However, gender gaps are still prevalent elsewhere; women's underrepresentation in STEM fields is an example that has received considerable attention as researchers and policy makers attempt to identify both causes and policies to improve the gender balance.
A less-known, but important, fact is that female representation varies widely across disciplines within STEM and non-STEM fields. We investigate whether differences across fields in the propensity to collaborate help account for differences across fields in the level and growth rate of female representation. This inquiry is motivated by research documenting gender differences in collaborative settings. For example, studies have shown that women are more likely than men to prefer to work in teams – partly because they make more optimistic assessments of their perspective teammates' abilities – and to view academic careers, in some instances, as not sufficiently collaborative. It is also possible that increased collaboration is disadvantageous for women. The sign of the relationship between collaboration and female share is thus an empirical question.
We find that one additional author on the average document in a field is associated with an increase in the female share of 2.3 percentage points. The estimated impact becomes even larger if we split the sample by STEM and non-STEM fields, becoming
3.7 percentage points for STEM fields and 5.6 for non-STEM. (Estimates are all significant at the 1 percent level.)
The finding of a positive effect is robust to alternative
measures of collaboration and various regression specifications. Our results imply that the recent rise in co-
authorship could be beneficial to female representation in academic fields.

Gender Peer Effects in a Predominantly Male Environment: Evidence From West Point

Nick Huntington-Klein
California State University-Fullerton
Elaina Rose
University of Washington


The last several decades have seen a dramatic increase in the
representation of women in traditionally male professions (e.g. Goldin 2014). Growth has been slower among Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) fields and military officers.
Economists have paid much attention to the former, far less to the latter. Explanations include (Bertrand et al. 2010). The literature on female performance in these areas is wide, but many descriptive studies support to some degree the commonly held belief that women with women peers and mentors are more likely to enter and persist in male-advantaged environments (e.g. Drury et al. 2011; Flabbi et al. 2012; Kunze & Miller 2014). These studies are limited, as standard issues with peer and mentor effects studies apply, including the endogenous selection of group. This paper follows previous work recognizing that random assignment of cadets (students) to companies and classes at military academies can help inform our understanding of interactions in broader contexts (Lyle 2007; Carrell et al. 2008). We extend Lyle's (2007) work by estimating gender-specific peer and mentor effects and focus
on retention of women at West Point in the first years in which women were admitted. We find that women do significantly better when placed in companies with more women peers. The addition of one woman peer is predicted to reduce the gender progression gap by half. We see no effect of peer gender on the retention of men.

Cultural Assimilation, Peer Effects and the Evolution of the Gender Gap in Risk Preferences

Sharon Xuejing Zuo
University of Houston


We investigate the persistence of cultural and gender norms. Our data were collected from
economic experiments conducted with 479 elementary and middle school Mosuo (matrilineal) and
Han (traditionally patriarchal) students. We find that in the first and second grades, Mosuo and
Han children exhibit opposite gender norms–Mosuo girls take more risks than Mosuo boys while
Han girls are more risk-averse than Han boys. Gradually, Mosuo girls behave more similar to Han
girls. By fourth and fifth grades, Mosuo girls become more risk-averse than Mosuo boys. In a
boarding middle school, roommates are randomly assigned. Mosuo boys who have fewer Mosuo
roommates behave more similarly to Han. Our findings suggest that cultural and gender norms are
malleable at formative ages.
Bruce Sacerdote
Dartmouth College
Claudia Goldin
Harvard University
JEL Classifications
  • A1 - General Economics
  • I2 - Education and Research Institutions