Early Childhood Behavioral Skills and the Gender Reversal in Educational Attainment in the United States: A New Perspective

Jayanti Owens, Princeton University

The gender reversal in high school completion, college enrollment, and college completion represents one of the most salient demographic shifts in the United States in recent decades. Prior research highlights women’s increased incentives for college via increased returns in the labor market. This study proposes and tests a new and complementary perspective on the gender reversal: the gender gap in early childhood behavioral skills. By age 5, boys lag behind girls in terms of attention, concentration, and social skills. Using two national datasets of children sampled approximately 15 years apart, I propose—and find support for—the hypothesis that the gender gap in behavior has grown over time, as many boys have lost their primary male role model due to changes in American families. Linking this growing behavioral gap to educational attainment, I find that the gap in behavioral skills explains a notable share of the reversal in educational attainment.

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Presented in Poster Session 3