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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2018 Abstracts

The Impact of Gap Years on Academic Outcomes for Women: A Case Study from the Missionary Age Change

Maggie Marchant, Brigham Young University

A common practice among young adults throughout the United States and other countries is to delay or take time off during school for a “gap year.” The activities chosen differ, but often include travel, work, or volunteering. This time away from formal schooling is promoted as a way to mature and become more focused for school. However, others worry that this practice lowers the likelihood of college completion. Missionary service for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a unique type of gap year. Previous literature has investigated the academic, social, personal benefits of gap years with mixed results; however selection into gap years confounds the impact of taking time off with unobservable personal characteristics. To overcome selection issues, I exploit an exogenous policy change that lowered age requirements for missionary service resulting in a large increase in the number of women serving missions. I use data from Brigham Young University undergraduate students before and after this lowering in the age requirement for female missionaries, to measure the impact of taking time away from school on academic progress, academic performance and choice of major. The policy and panel nature of the data allow me to estimate using a difference in differences model. Preliminary results show that the mission policy age change did impact the age of service and number of missionaries for both men and women. Students impacted by policy change also had lower average GPA and a lower likelihood of changing their major. However, I expect that regression results will show that going on a mission will increase academic performance and affect major-related decisions. This research contributes to the understanding of women’s experience in post-secondary education and how they prepare for future careers.