Brawn, gender and human capital investment

Females are now more numerous than males in most levels of education, and they perform better in school. Why is that? One hypothesis is that there are biological differences that make that men are better at tasks that require force, while women are better when reasoning is asked for. This is the brawn versus brain hypothesis, and as todays economies indeed ask for more intelligence than brute force from their workers, women find more opportunities and better pay.

Mark Pitt, Mark Rosenzweig and Nazmul Hassan build a model of investment in human capital that differentiates genders. Better nutrition improves strength and education improves skills. Individuals make these choices, as well as in which activities to work. Using panel data from rural Bangladesh, they find that model is a reasonable description of reality. That is particularly interesting, because rural Bangladesh does not strike me as an economy where brain would dominate brawn. Also of interest is that improvements in health do not increase education for men, it may even reduce it, while women education clearly benefits from them. Thus policies that focus on health improvements are likely to improve women's schooling more than men's, lead to more occupational differentiation across genders, and a larger gender wag gap.

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