Cross-program Differences in Returns to Education and the Gender Earnings Gap

Steffen Andersen, Philippe d’Astous, Jimmy Martínez-Correa, Stephen H. Shore

Research output: Working paperResearch


University programs differ in their gender earnings gaps, that is, the difference between the subsequent earnings of the program’s male and female enrollees. A program could have a positive gender earnings gap because it attracts higher-ability men than women (a selection effect) or because it increases the earnings of male enrollees more than female enrollees (a causal effect). To understand the source of cross-program differences in gender earnings gaps, we estimate the returns for men and women entering programs with different gender earnings gaps. We exploit a discontinuity built into the Danish national university admissions system, which provides a quasi-random assignment of similar applicants to different programs. We compare students assigned across this discontinuity to programs with low- to high-earning enrollees and to programs with small to large gender earnings gaps. Enrolling in a program whose enrollees earn $1 more leads to a $0.28 increase in earnings. Enrolling in a program with a $1 larger gender earnings gap, holding average earnings constant, has no effect on male earnings but reduces female earnings by $0.42. This effect is small when women enter the labor market but increases over time. Our results show that programs that appear worse for women – in the sense of having large gender earnings gaps – are worse for women in that these programs
reduce female earnings more than programs with smaller gaps.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAtlanta, GA
PublisherCEAR, Georgia State University
Number of pages64
Publication statusPublished - 2020
SeriesWorking paper / Center for Economic Analysis of Risk (CEAR)

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