Frisch seminar: Catalina Franco
Strategic Decisions have “Major” Consequences: Gender Differences in College Major Choices
Catalina Franco & Amelia Hawkins
Using rich administrative data from the universe of applicants to the largest public university in Colombia, we study the college major choices of female and male applicants who just miss the cutoff to enroll in their most preferred major. 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 applicants just below the cutoff enroll in, females ultimately have a 6-8% earnings potential disadvantage compared to males, despite there being no gender difference in the potential earnings of preferred majors. 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.