The aim of this paper is to evaluate if involvement in sport may generate an improvement in girls’ performance in math scores relative to those in reading. Using data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA, 2015) on test scores of Italian high school students we implement an Instrumental Variable strategy designed to establish the causal relationship between sports and test scores. The econometric strategy relies on two features, namely, 1) the use of mother education as an instrument to predict the level of sports performed by girls and 2) the use of the ratio of math and reading scores as the main interest-dependent variable to eliminate from the residuals unobserved elements that may shape schooling ability and are likely to be correlated with the educational level of mothers. Results highlight that physical activity improves math test scores for girls. We argue that involvement in sports for girls may make up for the lack of out-of-the-home experiences that typically takes place during childhood, generating an improvement in willingness to compete as well as in the ability to perform strategic and logical reasoning under pressure, fostering math performance.
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