Journal Article

Parental Investments in Early Childhood and the Gender Gap in Math and Literacy

Framed Field Experiments | February 01, 2022
Amanda Chuan, John A. List, Anya Samek, and Shreemayi Samujjwala

As early as middle school, girls self-select out of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses at greater rates than boys (Fiala et al., 2022; Kraft et al., 2022). Why? We link women’s under-representation in STEM to their over-representation in nonSTEM fields (see Charles and Bradley, 2002). Prior work argues that this over-representation arises from women’s comparative advantage in language arts (Breda and Napp, 2019; Goulas et al., 2020), which emerges as early as age 5 (DiPrete and Jennings, 2011).

A key question, therefore, is why might women have a comparative advantage in language arts? Since this advantage appears to arise early, early parental investments may play a role. As List et al. (2018) and others argue, parents play a central role in the development of child skills.

In this paper, we use a longitudinal field experiment with 953 children and their parents to investigate whether there are differences in parental investments at early ages by child gender. We further investigate whether such investments are associated with test scores in math and language arts at older ages.

We first survey parents on time spent teaching to children when they are 3-5 years old. We then collect data on Math and English test scores when children are 8-14 years old. Finally, we use a field experiment to explore whether early childhood interventions affect gender gaps in parental investments.