Working Paper

Gender Differences in Time Allocation Contribute to Differences in Developmental Outcomes in Children and Adolescents

Published: 2022

Non-technical summary:

In most OECD countries, females tend to have higher educational attainment and achievement than males. This paper hypothesises gender disparity in time investments as a potential explanation for gender differences in cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. To test this hypothesis, we investigate whether males and females in Australia use their time differently and how the gender disparity in time investments contributes to explaining the gender gaps in various development outcomes.

Using over 50 thousand time-use diaries from two cohorts of children from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children (LSAC), we document significant gender differences in time allocation in the first 16 years in life. Relative to males, females spend more time on personal care, chores and educational activities and less time on physical and media related activities. These gender gaps in time allocation appear at very young ages and widen overtime. We provide novel evidence that gender differentials in time investment are quantitatively important in explaining a female advantage in most cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Moreover, gender disparity in educational time outside of school is the most important factor contributing to gender test score gaps and its contribution is more pronounced for higher performing students. By contrast, gender differences in media time are the main factor explaining gender gaps in non-cognitive skills. As children age, gender differences in time allocation play an increasing role in explaining gender gaps in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

The results presented in this study may have several potentially important implications for policies that aim to improve developmental outcomes for male and female students. For example, our finding that time allocations, especially educational time outside of school, play a significant role in explaining gender test score gaps observed in standardised cognitive testing suggests that policies aimed at increasing the time spent on educational activities outside of school by male students could reduce the gender test score gaps, especially in non-numeracy subjects.  Similarly, our finding of the significant contribution that the time spent on media makes to male disadvantage in non-cognitive skills suggests scope for policy interventions to reduce non-educational media time among males to narrow the gender gap in non-cognitive skills. Such policies are particularly relevant given increasing concerns about a “boy crisis”.


Brinkman S.Le H. T.Mitrou F.Nguyen H.Zubrick S.

Nguyen, H. T., Brinkman, S., Le, H. T., Zubrick, S.R., and Mitrou, F. (2022). ‘Gender Differences in Time Allocation Contribute to Differences in Developmental Outcomes in Children and Adolescents’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2021-05. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.