Thinking about parents: Gender and Field of Study

 by Michela Carlana and Lucia Corno


In this paper, we implement a lab-in-field experiment among approximately 2000 children enrolled in 14 middle schools in Italy to investigate whether thinking about parental recommendation affects students’ choice of the field of study, exacerbating gender segregation with more girls into humanistic fields and more boys into scientific fields. First, we show that children perceive gender-stereotypical recommendations from their  parents: keeping constant ability, girls feel less supported in math and boys less supported in literature. Second, we show that thinking about mothers’ recommendations exacerbates the gender gap in the choice of the field: it decreases the probability that girls choose math compared to literature by 10 percentage points but does not influence the choice of boys. Thinking about fathers’ recommendations negatively influences the probability to choose math for girls and positively for boys, but the impact is not statistically significant at conventional level. Consistent with the literature, we find that mothers have a stronger influence on their daughters’ schooling decisions and fathers have a stronger influence on their sons’ decisions with gender-stereotypical recommendations. Our results highlight the crucial role of parents in shaping children’s choices and self-confidence in different fields: recommendations of parents induce equally able children to segregate into different fields, pushing more girls into humanities and more boys into sciences, thus exacerbating gender stereotypes in the field of study. 


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