Exploring explanations for the gender gap in study abroad: A case study of the Netherlands

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The overrepresentation of female students in study abroad programmes across the Western world represents one of the major gaps in scientific research on study abroad. In this paper, I explore possible theoretical and empirical explanations, drawing on Personal Investment Theory and investigating study abroad motivations and decisions of a nationally representative sample of higher education students in the Netherlands between 2006 and 2015. The analyses specifically focus on the role of parents, academic self-concept and perceived goals in female and male students decision-making process to participate in study abroad programmes. The results reveal that maternal educational attainment level potentially plays a crucial role in explaining the decision-making process of both male and female students, as well as in explaining the overrepresentation of female students. The findings indicate that female students whose mothers have a medium educational attainment level are more likely to study abroad for exploration motives, whereas female students with lower educated mothers are more motivated by professional development purposes. As such, the results suggest mothers might motivate their daughters to study abroad in order to achieve intergenerational social mobility. Together, the presented findings offer fresh theoretical and empirical explanations of the gender gap in study abroad. Furthermore, the generated insights open up new directions for future research, indicating particularly the potential of social reproduction theories for explaining the gender gap in study abroad.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalHigher Education
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021


  • Gender
  • International student mobility
  • Motivations
  • Study abroad
  • The Netherlands


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