Public Economics and Policy Seminar - Julien Grenet (Paris School of Economics)
Can female role models reduce the gender gap in science? Evidence from classroom interventions in French high schools
This paper reports the results of a large-scale field experiment that was designed to assess whether short classroom interventions by external female role models with a science background can influence students’ attitudes towards science-related careers and affect their choice of field of study. Using a random assignment of the interventions to high school classrooms in the Paris Region, we find that a one-hour exposure to a female role model increases by respectively 30 percent (20 percent) the probability for girls in Grade 12 to enroll in a selective (male-dominated) STEM track in higher education the following year, inducing an increase in the representation of girls in those tracks from 30 to 34 percent (28 to 31 percent). We find only limited effects of the interventions on boys’ educational choices in Grade 12, and no effect for female and male students in Grade 10. Several mechanisms can explain the observed changes in college major choices among girls in Grade 12. First, for all students, the program strongly reduces the prevalence of stereotypes associated with jobs in science and gender roles in science. Second, it raises students’ interest in science-related careers. Third, it slightly improves their math self-concept. We find that the program was particularly effective at steering high-achieving girls in Grade 12 towards selective STEM studies, and that female facilitators with a professional background had larger effects than young researchers. The results suggest, however, that role models also increase students’ awareness of female underrepresentation in science and reinforce the belief that women are discriminated in STEM careers, which could explain their limited effects among low-achieving girls.