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National Bureau of Economic Research: Childhood Environment and Gender Gaps in Adulthood

This working paper examines if childhood environments affect boys or girls differently, and particularly whether the conditions in which they grew up has made a long-term impact on gender gaps in adult employment.


we conclude that gender gaps in adulthood  have roots in childhood, perhaps because poverty and exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods during childhood are particularly harmful for boys..

This study reveals that there is a reverse gender gap where boys who grow up in low income families, in poor areas in America are less likely to work at age 30 compared to their female counterparts.


Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States shows that boys growing up in America in poor families in racially and economically segregated, high minority areas are on average less likely than girls to work as adults.

About 10 million anonymous American tax records were analysed of children born in the 1980s and tracked to their employment status at age 30. It suggests that childhood environments play a significant role in shaping gender employment gaps. In areas where there are higher rates of single-parent families, poverty and crime the gender gap is particularly high.

In Baltimore, for instance, about 71% of girls born in the early 1980s were employed at age 30, compared to only 58% of boys of similar backgrounds. In Washington about 72% of girls from poor families, compared to 56% of boys growing up poor, were employed at age 30.

Evidence shows that boys may be more sensitive than girls to growing up in  negative environments, in poor areas where parents earn a low income, compared to girls growing up in the same environment. Girls seem to be more resilient in negative environments, whereas boys in the same environment tend to be more likely to perform worse at school, drop out of high school and get involved in crime. More research is needed to find out the underlying causes.

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