Labor market returns, marriage opportunities, or the education system?

23 Oct 2010

This paper measures the evolution of the gender differences in numeracy among school age children using a longitudinal dataset from Indonesia.

A unique feature of the dataset is that it uses an identical test for two survey rounds, which implies that any changes in the gender gap are caused by actual changes in numeracy. To the author's knowledge, this is the first study that is able to distinguish actual changes in numeracy from changes in the difficulty of the tests. He finds that girls outperform boys by 0.09 standard deviations when the sample was around 11 years old. Seven years later, the gap has increased to 0.19 standard deviations. This gap is equivalent to around 18 months of schooling. He finds evidence for two explanations for the widening gap. The first is that households invest more resources in girls relative to boys. This behavior appears to be rational, driven by the higher labor market returns to numeracy for girls than for boys. In contrast, no marriage market returns to numeracy for either gender are found. The second explanation is that the Indonesian education system appears to play some role in promoting the gender gap. A particular source of this appears to be the teachers, as the gender gap in numeracy only occurs in schools where more than half of the teachers are female.

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