The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap

Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz, Ilyana Kuziemko

NBER Working Paper No. 12139
Issued in April 2006
NBER Program(s):   CH   DAE   ED   LS

Women are currently the majority of U.S. college students and of those receiving a bachelor’s degree, but were 39 percent of undergraduates in 1960. We use three longitudinal data sets of high school graduates in 1957, 1972, and 1992 to understand the narrowing of the gender gap in college and its reversal. From 1972 to 1992 high school girls narrowed the gap with boys in math and science course taking and in achievement test scores. These variables, which we term the proximate determinants, can account for 30 to 60 percent of the relative increase in women’s college completion rate. Behind these changes were several others: the future work expectations of young women increased greatly between 1968 and 1979 and the age at first marriage for college graduate women rose by 2.5 years in the 1970s, allowing them to be more serious students. The reversal of the college gender gap, rather than just its elimination, was due in part to the persistence of behavioral and developmental differences between males and females.

download in pdf format
   (258 K)

email paper

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the January 2007 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12139

Published: Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2006. "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(4), pages 133-156, Fall. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Goldin and Katz w7527 The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions
Goldin w4099 The Meaning of College in the Lives of American Women: The Past One-Hundred Years
Jacob w8964 Where the boys aren't: Non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education
Bertrand, Goldin, and Katz w14681 Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Corporate and Financial Sectors
Goldin w3203 The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Work
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us