Female Middle School Math Teachers Mean Better Grades for Girls Now, More STEM Participation Later

Studies have found that female students perform better when taught by female teachers. But, there is little evidence on whether these effects persistent beyond that school year. We also don’t understand exactly why female student–teacher gender matching improves performance. Jaegeum Lim (Korean National Assembly) and Jonathan Meer (Texas A&M) asked these questions in the context of longer-run data on students from 74 middle schools in Seoul, South Korea.

Teachers and students are randomly assigned to classrooms in this school system, and this randomization allowed the researchers to find the true effect of the teacher–student gender match. Randomization is important—if certain teachers were systematically assigned to certain types of students, then any differences in student performance could simply reflect that sorting. Additionally, students had different teachers for different subjects, allowing the researchers to compare the same student’s performance with teachers of different gender.

They found that having a female teacher in seventh grade substantially increases female students’ test scores relative to male students, and that this effect lasts at least through 12th grade. More over, having a female math teacher in seventh grade leads female students to be significantly more likely to take advanced math courses, plan on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) major, and attend a STEM-focused high school.

Why? According to the Lim and Meer, “Our results also show that female students reported they are more likely to be engaged in their classes when taught by a female teacher. They’re also more likely to select into higher-quality high schools.”

Read the full study in the Journal of Human Resources: “Persistent Effects of Teacher–Student Gender Matches,” by Jaegeum Lim and Jonathan Meer

Jaegeum Lim is at the Korean National Assembly, and Jonathan Meer is at Texas A&M University (@TAMUECON).