Vilfredo Pareto Research Seminar
Catalina Franco Buitrago

Strategic Decisions Have “Major” Consequences: Gender Differences in College Major Choices

Catalina Franco Buitrago, postdoctoral fellow at NHH Norwegian School of Economics
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Maison de la paix (Geneva), Petal 1 Room S4 (hybrid)

The Vilfredo Pareto Research Seminar is the Economics department's weekly seminar, featuring external speakers in all areas of economics.

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As part of the Vilfredo Pareto Research Seminar series, the International Economics Department at the Graduate Institute is pleased to invite you to a public talk given by Catalina Franco Buitrago, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Economics Department at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH).

She will present her work, joint with Amelia Hawkins, titled Strategic Decisions Have “Major” Consequences: Gender Differences in College Major Choices.

Abstract: Can the way students navigate admissions processes contribute to the gender gap in college major choices? We use quasi-random variation from major-specific admission cutoffs to study the college major choices of female and male applicants to the largest public university in Colombia. From rich administrative data we observe applicants' preferred major, i.e. their unconstrained preference before they take a college entrance exam, and their choices after obtaining their exam score. We find that female applicants with scores just below the cutoff (1) submit a longer list of less preferred majors, and (2) enroll in a less preferred major in the first admission cycle in our data relative to similar men, who are more likely to reapply for admission in subsequent cycles. Based on the college majors that marginal applicants enroll in, women ultimately have a 6.8-9.5\% earnings potential disadvantage compared to men, despite no gender difference in the potential earnings of preferred majors. A decomposition suggests that half of this effect comes from differences in the post-exam major choices and half from the differential behavioral reactions by gender to just missing the cutoff. Our findings imply that gender gaps in education and the labor market are not only determined by unconstrained preferences, as previous work has suggested but that they can be magnified by strategic decisions.


About the speaker

Catalina Franco Buitrago is a postdoctoral fellow at the Economics Department and the Center of Excellence FAIR at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and a researcher at the FAIR Insight Team. Her main line of research focuses on education and gender. Her work is at the intersection of labor and development economics, and uses the tools and insights from behavioral and experimental economics.