Born in the family: Preferences for boys and the gender gap in math

Gaia Dossi, David Figlio, Paola Giuliano*, Paola Sapienza

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We study the effect of preferences for boys on the performance in mathematics of girls, using evidence from two different data sources. In our first set of results, we identify families with a preference for boys by using fertility stopping rules in a large population of households whose children attend public schools in Florida. Girls growing up in a boy-biased family score on average 3 percentage points lower on math tests when compared to girls raised in other types of families. In our second set of results, we find similar effects when we study the correlations between girls’ performance in mathematics and maternal gender role attitudes, using evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. We conclude that socialization at home can explain a non-trivial part of the observed gender disparities in mathematics performance and document that maternal gender attitudes correlate with those of their children, supporting the hypothesis that preferences transmitted through the family impact children behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-188
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Cultural transmission
  • Gender differences
  • Math performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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