School Context and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement

Legewie, Joscha; DiPrete, Thomas A.

Today, boys generally under-perform relative to girls in schools throughout the industrialized world. Building on theories about gender identity and reports from prior ethnographic classroom observations, we argue that the school environment channels the conception of masculinity in the peer culture, and thereby either fosters or inhibits the development of anti-school attitudes and behavior among boys. Girls' peer groups, in contrast, do not vary as strongly with the social environment in the extent to which school engagement is stigmatized as "un-feminine." As a consequence, boys are more sensitive to school resources that create a learning oriented environment than are girls. Our analyses use a quasi-experimental research design to estimate the gender difference in the causal effect on test scores, and focus on peer SES as an important school resource. We argue that assignment to 5th grade classrooms within Berlin schools is practically random, and we evaluate this selection process by an examination of Berlin's school regulations, by simulation analysis, and by qualitative interviews with school principles. Estimates of the effect of SES composition on male and female performance strongly support our central hypothesis, and other analyses support our proposed mechanism as the likely explanation of the gender differences in the causal effect.


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October 3, 2011


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