Understanding the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering: Evidence from the Chilean College Admissions Tests


This study seeks to develop a better understanding of the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering by analyzing the gender gaps (a) in the interest in pursuing a science degree and (b) on science achievement. We use national-level college admissions data to examine gender differences and to explore the association between these outcomes and the attendance to single-sex or co-educational schools. The Chilean college admissions system provides a unique context to study these gender differences, since applicants who wish to pursue an undergraduate degree in science or engineering are required to take a high-stakes standardized science achievement test as part of the admission battery. This test has three subjects: biology, physics, and chemistry, and applicants must choose to be tested in only one of them. Significant gender differences exist for the examinees in their choice of subject and achievement on (the tests). Gender gaps favoring males are observed in the three forms. Both interest and achievement in science are associated with the sex composition of the school attended.

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  1. 1.

    Technically, the scale varies slightly by type of school. The scale is different from that of the standardized tests which has a maximum of 850 points. . The rationale for doing so is unclear since there is a lack of available technical reports to explain the scaling of GPA scores (Pearson, 2013, p. 33).

  2. 2.

    We replicated this analysis by distinguishing those public single-sex schools that are highly selective, from the rest of the schools. The gaps between males and females tend to enlarge for single-sex schools, and the gaps within genders tend to diminish. Overall, the main results and, therefore, the conclusions, remain unchanged.


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Correspondence to Fernanda Gándara.

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Gándara, F., Silva, M. Understanding the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering: Evidence from the Chilean College Admissions Tests. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 14, 1079–1092 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-015-9637-2

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  • Admissions tests
  • Chile
  • Engineering
  • Gender gap
  • Science
  • Single-sex schooling