Dynamics of the Gender Gap in High Math Achievement
This paper examines the dynamics of the gender gap in high math achievement over the high school years using data from the American Mathematics Competition. A clear gender gap is already present by 9th grade and the gender gap widens over the high school years. High-achieving students must substantially improve their performance from year to year to maintain their within-cohort rank, but there is nonetheless a great deal of persistence in the rankings. Several gender-related differences in the dynamics contribute to the widening of the gender gap, including differences in dropout rates and in the mean and variance of year-to-year improvements among continuing students. A decomposition indicates that the most important difference is that fewer girls make large enough gains to move up substantially in the rankings. An analysis of students on the margin of qualifying for a prestigious second stage exam provides evidence of a discouragement effect: some react to falling just short by dropping out of participating in future years, and this reaction is more common among girls.
This project would not have been possible without Professor Steve Dunbar and Marsha Conley at AMC, who provided access to the data as well as their insight. Daniel Ehrlich provided excellent research assistance. Financial support was provided by the Sloan Foundation. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Glenn Ellison is the author of a series of books that can be used as preparation for math competitions.