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Double Majors: One For Me, One For The Parents?

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  • BASIT ZAFAR

Abstract

At least a quarter of college students in the United States graduate with more than one undergraduate major. This paper investigates how students decide on the composition of their paired majors? In other words, whether the majors chosen are substitutes or complements. Since students use both their preferences and their expectations about major-specific outcomes when choosing their majors, I collect innovative data on subjective expectations, drawn from a sample of Northwestern University sophomores. Despite showing substantial heterogeneity in beliefs, the students seem aware of differences across majors and have sensible beliefs about the outcomes. Students believe that their parents are more likely to approve majors associated with high social status and high returns in the labor market. I incorporate the subjective data in a choice model of double majors that also captures the notion of specialization. I find that enjoying the coursework and gaining approval of parents are the most important determinants in the choice of majors. The model estimates reject the hypothesis that students major in one field to pursue their own interests and in another for parents’ approval. Instead, I find that gaining parents’ approval and enjoying a field of study both academically and professionally are outcomes that students feel are important for both majors. However, I do find that students act strategically in their choice of majors by choosing ones that differ in their chances of completion and difficulty and in finding a job upon graduation.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2011.00403.x
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Western Economic Association International in its journal Economic Inquiry.

Volume (Year): 50 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 (04)
Pages: 287-308

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ecinqu:v:50:y:2012:i:2:p:287-308

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References

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  1. Bellemare, C. & Kroger, S. & Soest, A.H.O. van, 2008. "Measuring inequity aversion in a heterogeneous population using experimental decisions and subjective probabilities," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-376716, Tilburg University.
  2. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2004. "Ability sorting and the returns to college major," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 343-375.
  3. Basit Zafar, 2011. "Can subjective expectations data be used in choice models? evidence on cognitive biases," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(3), pages 520-544, 04.
  4. Basit Zafar, 2009. "How do college students form expectations?," Staff Reports 378, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  5. Basit Zafar, 2009. "College major choice and the gender gap," Staff Reports 364, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  6. Brownstone, David & Train, Kenneth, 1999. "Forecasting new product penetration with flexible substitution patterns," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt1j6814b3, University of California Transportation Center.
  7. Todd R. Stinebrickner & Ralph Stinebrickner, 2009. "Learning about Academic Ability and the College Drop-out Decision," NBER Working Papers 14810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Adeline Delavande, 2005. "Measuring Revisions to Subjective Expectations," 2005 Meeting Papers 682, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  9. Delavande, Adeline, 2005. "Pill, Patch or Shot? Subjective Expectations and Birth Control Choice," CEPR Discussion Papers 4856, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Del Rossi, Alison F. & Hersch, Joni, 2008. "Double your major, double your return?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 375-386, August.
  11. Lance Lochner, 2003. "Individual Perceptions of the Criminal Justice System," NBER Working Papers 9474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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