School Quality and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement

Peer-reviewed Publication

David Autor, David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, Jeffrey Roth, and Melanie Wasserman

May 2016

Women have surpassed men in educational attainment throughout the developed world. In 2011, the ratio of female to male college completion rates exceeded unity in 29 of 34 OECD countries, with just Chile, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Turkey having higher rates of male college completion. In the United States, the female high school graduation rate at present exceeds the male rate by 5 percentage points, and the female college graduation rate exceeds the male rate by 7 percentage points (Autor and Wasserman 2013). What explains these gender gaps in educational attainment? Recent evidence indicates that boys and girls are differently affected by the quantity and quality of inputs received in childhood. We complement this disparate evidence by providing powerful and tightly controlled estimates of the causal effect of school quality on the gender gap in test scores and behavioral outcomes. We find that boys benefit more from cumulative exposure to higher-quality schools—measured using school level gain scores in reading and mathematics— than do their sisters.