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Interventions to Close Gender Gaps: What Works and What Can Backfire

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM (CST)

Hilton Riverside, Grand Salon D Sec 19 & 22
Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession
  • Chair: Olga Shurchkov, Wellesley College

Information Frictions and Gender Inequality in Online Labor Markets

Belinda Archibong
Columbia University
Francis Annan
George State University
Oyebola Okunogbe
World Bank
Ifeatu Oliobi
Columbia University


We study the effects of information frictions on gender gaps in matching and hiring in online labor markets. Administrative data from the largest online job platform in Nigeria suggest significant gender differences in job applications, hiring and potential mismatch by gender. Women are less likely to apply to senior level jobs, despite being equally qualified for positions. Women are also less likely to be hired. We implement randomized experiments that provide information on these patterns, along with diversity encouragement information, separately, to applicants and hiring managers. The results demonstrate the importance of the two sides of the online market and suggest that information can reduce gender gaps in employment by correcting misinformation among misinformed applicants and hiring managers.

College Field Specialization and Beliefs about Relative Performance: An Experimental Intervention to Understand Gender Gaps in STEM

Stephanie Owen
Colby College


Beliefs about relative academic performance may shape field specialization and explain gender gaps in STEM enrollment, but little causal evidence exists. To test whether these beliefs are malleable and salient enough to change behavior, I run a randomized controlled trial with 5,700 undergraduates across seven introductory STEM courses. Providing relative performance information shrinks gender gaps in biased beliefs substantially and closes ten percent of the gender gap in subsequent STEM course-taking. The findings imply that male overconfidence rather than female underconfidence contributes to gaps in specialization. Beliefs matter, but may not be a useful target for facilitating female STEM participation.

Quota vs Quality? Long-Term Gains from an Unusual Gender Quota

Ursina Schaede
University of Zurich
Ville Mankki
University of Turku


We evaluate equity-efficiency trade-offs from admission quotas by examining effects on output
once beneficiaries start producing in the relevant industry. In particular, we document the
impact of abolishing a 40% quota for male primary school teachers in Finland on their pupils’
long run outcomes. The quota had advantaged academically lower-scoring male university
applicants, and its removal cut the share of men among new teachers by half. We combine
this reform with the timing of union-mandated teacher retirements to isolate quasi-random
variation in the local share of male quota teachers. Using comprehensive register data, we find
that pupils exposed to a higher share of male quota teachers during primary school transition
more smoothly to post-compulsory education, and higher educational attainment and
labor force participation at age 25. Pupils of both genders benefit similarly from exposure
to male quota teachers. Our findings are consistent with the quota improving the allocation of talent over the unconstrained selection process.

A Hidden Cost of Affirmative Action: Muddying Signals about Women's Ability

Mallory Avery
Monash University


Despite gains in female representation in early career stages, large gender gaps persist at the higher ends of the income distribution. This paper uses an experiment to study whether affirmative action, which has been used mainly in early career stages, could have a hidden cost. Specifically, by manipulating the presence of affirmative action in an initial competitive environment, I test whether the presence of affirmative action decreases the strength of the signal about a woman's ability when she is successful and thus the likelihood of her being employed in a second stage. Consistent with the hypotheses from a simple theoretical framework of employee tournament entry and employer hiring decisions, I find that qualified women are significantly less likely to be hired when those qualifications were gained in the presence of affirmative action. Additionally, I find empirical support that this decrease in hiring comes through muddied employer beliefs about the ability of these previously successful women, explaining over 56% of the hiring difference. A welfare analysis shows that, while affirmative action has an overall positive effect for women in this experiment due to increasing the number of women who enter and are successful in the first competitive stage, the welfare improvement would be three times as large if there were not the cost in terms of muddying signals about women’s ability.

Julia Seither
University of Rosario
Mary Kaltenberg
Pace University
Tatiana Mocanu
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Michaela Pagel
Columbia University
JEL Classifications
  • J1 - Demographic Economics
  • J7 - Labor Discrimination