Women at New Delhi colleges score better, on average, than men on entrance exams. And yet many female students choose to attend second-rate colleges. As Quartz reports, Brown University economist Girija Borker has proffered an explanation for this perplexing trend: women in New Delhi will choose lower-ranking colleges in order to avoid sexual predators.
Sexual assault and harassment are a rampant problem in New Delhi, which has been dubbed the “rape capital” of India. Gender-motivated crimes became a topic of heated discussion throughout India after a female student in Delhi was fatally gang-raped on a bus in 2012 — and it is perhaps unsurprising that Borker’s research found that female students do not feel safe commuting on buses.
Borker surveyed 2,700 Delhi students who live at home and commute to university each day. Auto rickshaws and the metro were more popular sources of transportation for women than the bus, even in cases when taking the bus offered the fastest route. Men, however, were more likely to travel by bus than women.
“I don’t know if it’s a perception that the metro is safer, maybe it is,” Payal Sharma, who attended the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College in Lajpat Nagar, told Quartz. “But good connectivity by metro was the first thing I checked for when I got in.”
Borker also sought to determine how routes of perceived safety inform a woman’s college choice. As Quartz explains, she used Google Maps to develop “an algorithm to generate as many as 12 plausible routes for each school. She then took those routes and assigned them a safety score based on data from the mobile applications Safetipin and Safecity.” The results, according to Borker’s analysis, suggest that while men who do well on entrance exams seek out top-ranking schools, women often opt for schools that are accessible via relatively safe routes.
Borker’s study does not necessarily prove that commute determines a woman’s choice of college. It does, however, suggest that there is a correlation between these two factors, which may in turn have broad implications for India. As Borker writes in her paper, “the global labor force participation rate for women is 26.7 percentage points lower than the rate for men in 2017 and the largest gender gap in participation rates is faced by women in emerging countries. The results of this paper suggest that street harassment could help explain part of this gender gap.”
Read more at Quartz.