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Why Has the College Gender Gap Expanded?

Gender in the Labor Market

ISBN: 978-1-78560-141-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-140-8

Publication date: 14 August 2015


This paper uses data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth to estimate the changing returns to cognitive and non-cognitive skills with respect to college completion, and quantifies the extent to which gender differences in these skills are driving the college gender gap. The use of two distinct college graduation cohorts allows a dynamic analysis of the widening female advantage in college graduation. I decompose the increase in the college gender gap into three pertinent categories of measurable attributes: family background, cognitive skills, and non-cognitive skills (captured by school suspensions, behavioral problems, and legal infractions). A second decomposition is applied to the change in the gap between the two periods. The results show that roughly half of the observed college graduation gender gap in the NLSY97 is due to female advantages in observable characteristics, and roughly half is “unexplained”: due to gender differences in the coefficients. With respect to the change in the gap, approximately 29% of the difference in differences is the “explained” component, attributed to changes in the relative characteristics of men and women. In particular, declining non-cognitive skills in men are associated with about 14% of the increase in the gender gap.



Kroeger, S. (2015), "Why Has the College Gender Gap Expanded? ", Gender in the Labor Market (Research in Labor Economics, Vol. 42), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 159-203.



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