Gender, Grades, and College Major During the Dot-Com Crash
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Although the dot-com crash had similar labor market effects for new graduates in engineering and computer science, it had different effects on who chose each major: women disproportionately left computer science, but not engineering. I investigate the mechanism behind the gender difference in reaction to the dot-com crash using administrative data on students from a four-year public university. At said university, there is a larger gender grade gap in computer science than engineering. I estimate a structural model of major choice where students choose a major to maximize expected lifetime utility, conditional on grades, the labor market, and other factors. I find that if the distribution of grades had been the same in engineering and computer science, the gender difference in reaction to the dot-com crash would have been 33 to 42% smaller, suggesting that students reacted to the dot-com crash in accordance with their perceived comparative advantage. My results suggest that grades are an important component in retaining women in computer science degree programs. Universities hoping to encourage women to major in computer science should investigate the sources of women's underperformance in STEM courses and work to help women improve their performance.
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