Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



In Kenya, adolescent girls fare poorly relative to boys in an educational system characterized by enormous growth, deteriorating quality, and rising costs. Girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school prematurely and are less likely to do well on the primary school leaving exams that come at the end of grade eight. Using data from nearly 600 adolescents aged 12-19 in combination with data collected from 36 primary schools in which those adolescents reside, this paper investigates the effect of school quality on the likelihood of dropping out from primary school in three districts of Kenya. In particular, various elements of schools that are either different for girls and boys or that have a potentially different effect for boys than for girls are explored. The results document both the power of existing gender systems at the level of the family and the potential power of gender systems within the school environment. Although the determination as to whether girls will remain in school rests largely in the hands of the family, school factors also appear to matter. Schools in which boys are favored in class, in which boys are provided with a more supportive environment in terms of advice, in which teachers take the importance of hard subjects such as math less seriously for girls, in which boys are left free to harass girls, and in which girls’ experience of unequal treatment is not recognized by boys, discourage girls’ retention.