Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 1093–1134 | Cite as

Gender gaps in early educational achievement

  • Deborah A. Cobb-Clark
  • Julie MoschionEmail author
Original Paper


This paper analyzes the source of the gender gap in third-grade numeracy and reading. We adopt an Oaxaca-Blinder approach and decompose the gender gap in educational achievement into endowment and response components. Our estimation relies on unusually rich panel data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children in which information on child development reported by parents and teachers is linked to each child’s results on a national, standardized achievement test. We find that girls in low- and middle-socio-economic-status (SES) families have an advantage in reading, while boys in high-SES families have an advantage in numeracy. Girls score higher on their third-grade reading tests in large part because they were more ready for school at age 4 and had better teacher-assessed literacy skills in kindergarten. Boys’ advantage in numeracy occurs because they achieve higher numeracy test scores than girls with the same education-related characteristics.


Gender gaps Educational achievement Education Australia 

JEL Classification

J16 I21 I24 



The authors would like to thank the anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. This paper uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, conducted in partnership between the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027). The Centre is administered by the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland, with nodes at The University of Western Australia, The University of Melbourne, and The University of Sydney. The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DSS, AIFS, ABS, or ARC.


  1. Almond D, Currie J (2011) Human capital development before age five. In: Ashenfelter O, Card D (eds) Handbook of labor economics, vol 4B. Elsevier, New York, pp 1315–1486Google Scholar
  2. Amato PR, Rivera F (1999) Paternal involvement and children’s behavior problems. J Marriage Fam 61(2):375–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Apps P, Mendolia S, Walker I (2013) The impact of pre-school on adolescents’ outcomes: evidence from a recent English cohort. Econ Educ Rev 37:183–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Autor D, Figlio D, Karbownik K, Roth J, Wasserman M (2016) Family disadvantage and the gender gap in behavioral and educational outcomes. Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute (CESifo) Working Paper No. 5925Google Scholar
  5. Baker M, Milligan K (2016) Boy-girl differences in parental investments: evidence from three countries. J Hum Capital 10(4):399–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bertrand M, Pan J (2013) The trouble with boys: social influences and the gender gap in disruptive behavior. Am Econ J Appl Econ 5(1):32–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blinder A (1973) Wage discrimination: reduced form and structural estimates. J Hum Resour 8(4):436–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brent D, May DC, Kundert DK (1996) The incidence of delayed school entry: a twelve-year review. Early Edu Dev 7(2):121–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buchman C, DiPrete TA, McDanile A (2008) Gender inequalities in education. Am J Sociol 34:319– 337Google Scholar
  10. Chatterji P, Kim D, Lahiri K (2014) Birth weight and academic achievement in childhood. Health Ecom 23(9):1013–1035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark D, Martorell P, Rockoff J (2009) School principals and school performance. Working paper No. 38. National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education ResearchGoogle Scholar
  12. Corak M (2006) Do poor children become poor adults? Lessons from a cross country comparison of generational earnings mobility. Res Econ Inequal 13(1):143–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cornwell C, Mustard DB, van Parys J (2013) Noncognitive skills and the gender disparities in test scores and teacher assessments: evidence from primary school. J Hum Resour 48(1):236–264Google Scholar
  14. Currie J, Moretti E (2007) Biology as destiny? Short-and long-run determinants of intergenerational transmission of birth weight. J Labor Econ 25(2):231–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Currie J (2009) Healthy, wealthy, and wise: socioeconomic status, poor health in childhood, and human capital development. J Econ Lit 47(1):87–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dee TS (2007) Teachers and the gender gaps in student achievement. J Hum Resour 17(3):528–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DiPrete TA, Jennings JL (2012) Social and behavioral skills and the gender gap in early educational achievement. Soc Sci Res 41(1):1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Elsner B, Isphording IE (2015) A big fish in a small pond: ability rank and human capital investment. IZA Discussion Papers No. 9121Google Scholar
  19. Entwisle DR, Alexander KL, Olson LS (2007) Early schooling: the handicap of being poor and male. Sociol Educ 80(2):114–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fan X, Fang H, Markussen S (2015) Mothers’ employment and children’s educational gender gap. NBER working paper No. 21183Google Scholar
  21. Fitzpatrick MD (2008) Starting school at four: the effect of universal pre-kindergarten on children’s academic achievement. B E J Econom Anal Policy 8 (1):46Google Scholar
  22. Fortin N, Lemieux T, Firpo S (2011) Decomposition methods in economics. In: Ashenfelter O, Card D (eds) Handbooks in economics: labor economics, vol 4A. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 1–102Google Scholar
  23. Fortin N, Oreopoulos P, Phipps S (2015) Leaving boys behind: gender disparities in high academic achievement. J Hum Resour 50(3):549–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fryer Jr, RG, Levitt SD (2010) An empirical analysis of the gender gap in mathematics. Am Econ J Appl Econ 2(2):210–240Google Scholar
  25. Gibbons S, Chevalier A (2008) Assessment and age 16 + education participation. Res Pap Educ 23(2):113–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Goodman R (1997) The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. J Child Psychol Psyc 38(5):581–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Guiso L, Monte F, Sapienza P, Zinaales L (2008) Culture, gender, and math. Science 320(30):1164–1165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heckman JJ (2011) The economics of inequality: the value of early childhood education. Am Educ 35(1):31–35Google Scholar
  29. Hill MA, O’Neill J (1994) Family endowments and the achievement of young children with special reference to the underclass. J Hum Resour 29(4):1064–1100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Holmlund H, Sund K (2008) Is the gender gap in school performance affected by the sex of the teacher? Labour Econ 15(1):37–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Husain M, Millimet DL (2009) The mythical ‘boy crisis’? Econ Educ Rev 28(1):38–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jacob BA (2002) Where the boys aren’t: non-cognitive skills, returns to school, and the gender gap in higher education. Econ Educ Rev 21(6):589–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jann B (2008) The blinder-oaxaca decomposition for linear regression models. Stata J 8(4):453–479Google Scholar
  34. Johnston DW, Nicholls ME, Shah M, Shields MA (2009) Nature’s experiment? handedness and early childhood development. Demography 46(2):281–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jones FL (1983) On decomposing the wage gap: a critical comment on blinder’s method. J Hum Resour 18(1):126–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jones FL, McMillan J (2001) Scoring occupational categories for social research: a review of current practice, with Australian examples. Work Employ Soc 15(3):539–563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kautz T, Heckman JJ, Diris R, Ter Weel B, Borghans L (2014) Fostering and measuring skills: improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills to promote lifetime success. OECD Education Working Papers No 110. OECD Publishing, ParisCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lavy V, Sand E (2015) On the origins of gender human capital gaps: short and long term consequences of teachers stereotypical biases. NBER Working Paper No. 20909Google Scholar
  39. Legewie J, DiPrete TA (2012) School context and the gender gap in educational achievement. Am Sociol Rev 77(3):463–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leibowitz A (1977) Parental inputs and children’s achievement. J Hum Resour 12(2):242–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Leigh A, Gong X (2009) Estimating cognitive gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Edu Econ 17(2):239–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. de Lemos MM, Doig B (1999) Who am i?: Developmental assessment Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  43. Levine SC, Vasilyeva M, Lourenco SF, Newcombe NS, Huttenlocher J (2005) Socio-economic status modifies the sex difference in spatial skill. Psychol Sci 16(11):841–845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Neumark D (1988) Employers’ discriminatory behavior and the estimation of wage discrimination. J Hum Resour 23(3):279–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nollenberger N, Rodrígues-planas N, Sevilla A (2016) The math gender gap: the role of culture. Am Econ Rev 106(5):257–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Oaxaca R (1973) Male-female wage differentials in urban labor markets. Int Econ Rev 14(3):693– 709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Oaxaca RL, Ransom MR (1999) Identification in detailed wage decompositions. Rev Econ Stat 81(1):154–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. OECD (2015) The ABC of gender equality in education: Aptitude, behaviour confidence, PISA, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/9789264229945-en
  49. Penner AM, Paret M (2008) Gender differences in mathematics achievement: exploring the early grades and the extremes. Soc Sci Res 37(1):239–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pope DG, Sydnor JR (2010) Geographic variation in the gender differences in test scores. J Econ Perspect 24(2):95–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Riegle-Crumb C (2006) The path through math: course sequences and academic performance at the intersection of race-ethnicity and gender. Am J Educ 113 (1):101–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rivkin SE, Hanushek E, Kain J (2005) Teachers, schools, and academic achievement. Econometrica 73(2):417–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Robinson JP, Lubienski ST (2011) The development of gender achievement gaps in mathematics and reading during elementary and middle school examining direct cognitive assessments and teacher ratings. Am Educ Res J 48(2):268–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Samson JF, Lesaux NK (2008) Language-minority learners in special education: rates and predictors of identification for services. J Learn Disabil 42(2):148–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Soloff C, Lawrence D, Johnstone R (2005) Sample design LSAC Technical Paper 1. Australian Institute of Family Studies, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  56. Terrier C (2016) Boys lag behind: how teachers’ gender biases affect student achievement. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10343Google Scholar
  57. Wake M, Nicholson JM, Hardy P, Smith K (2007) Preschooler obesity and parenting styles of mothers and fathers: Australian national population study. Paediatrics 120(6):1520–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wechsler D (2003) Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—fourth edition Psychological Corp, San Antonio, TXGoogle Scholar
  59. Willms JD, Shields M (1996) A Measure of Socioeconomic Status for the National Longitudinal Study of Children. Report prepared for Statistics CanadaGoogle Scholar
  60. Wößmann L (2003) Schooling resources, educational institutions and student performance: the international evidence. Oxford B Econ Stat 65(2):117–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social ResearchThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)BonnGermany
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families Over the Life CourseBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.EconomiXUniversity of NanterreNanterreFrance

Personalised recommendations