Gender differences in the choice of major: The importance of female role models

Catherine Porter, Danila Serra

Research output: Working paper


Women have been traditionally underrepresented in several fields of study, notably those with the highest returns. While in the last two decades many disciplines, including mathematics and physical sciences, have made significant progress in attracting and retaining women, there has been little improvement
in the field of economics, which remains heavily male-dominated. We report results from a field experiment aimed at increasing the percentage of women majoring in economics through exposure to carefully chosen female role models. We randomly selected a subset of Principles of Economics classes to be assigned to our role model treatment. Since the same classes were also offered and taught
by the same instructors the previous year, we are able to employ a difference-in-differences estimation strategy to test whether the role model intervention increased the percentage of women planning to major in economics (survey-based) and enrolling in intermediate economics classes (administrative
data) the semester and year following the intervention. Our results suggest that, while the role model intervention had no impact on male students, it significantly increased female students’ likelihood of expressing interest in the economics major and enrolling in further economics classes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameDepartmental Working Paper
PublisherSouthern Methodist University


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