Gender, information barriers and fields of study choice: a field experiment
LIEPP Working Paper
Paris : Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Evaluation of Public Policies
LIEPP Working Paper : 63
Gender segregation, Information, Higher education
In this article we propose and test a novel explanation for the segregation of wom-en in less rewarding fields of study in tertiary education that focuses on the lack of knowledge of the profitability of different fields, a mechanism that has arguably received limited attention in previous research. We frame this explanation in the context of research that emphasizes the role of gender-stereotypical curricular preferences and occupational plans for gender differences across fields, and we argue that school counseling can play a crucial role in either reinforcing or counter-ing these mechanisms by providing students with transparent information about returns to educational investments. To test this hypothesis we carried out a field experiment which confronted a random sample of over 9000 Italian high school seniors with detailed information concerning the profitability of fields of study and the vocational alternatives to college. Contrary to the claim that girls are less ca-reer-oriented than boys, we found that the former were much more reactive to this information initiative. Indeed, this intervention substantially improved the occupa-tional prospects of the girls by reducing their overrepresentation in weak fields and by enhancing their participation in vocational HE as an alternative to leaving the educational system after high school graduation. These findings support the hy-pothesis that information barriers fuel gender inequality in educational choices and suggest that light-touch, cost-effective counseling interventions that provide all students with the same information can have significant gender-equalizing effects.