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Aspiration Levels and Educational Choices An experimental study

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  • Lionel Page
  • Louis Lévy-Garboua

    ()

  • Claude Montmarquette

    ()

Abstract

The explanation of social inequalities in education is still a debated issue in economics. Recent empirical studies tend to downplay the potential role of credit constraint. This article tests a different potential explanation of social inequalities in education, specifically that social differences in aspiration level result in different educational choices. Having existed for a long time in the sociology of education, this explanation can be justified if aspiration levels are seen as reference points in a Prospect Theory framework. In order to test this explanation, this article applies the method of experimental economics to the issue of education choice and behaviour. One hundred twenty-nine individuals participated in an experiment in which they had to perform a task over fifteen stages grouped in three blocks or levels. In order to continue through the experiment, a minimum level of success was required at the end of each level. Rewards were dependent on the final level successfully reached. At the end of each level, participants could either choose to stop and take their reward or to pay a cost to continue further in order to possibly receive higher rewards. To test the impact of aspiration levels, outcomes were either presented as gains or losses relative to an initial sum. In accordance with the theoretical predictions, participants in the loss framing group choose to go further in the experiment. There was also a significant and interesting gender effect in the loss framing treatment, such that males performed better and reached higher levels. Expliquer les inégalités sociales en éducation demeure un défi pour les économistes. Des études récentes tendent à indiquer que les contraintes de crédit ne joueraient pas un rôle déterminant dans l’explication. Notre étude examine l’importance de niveaux d’aspirations sociales différentes pour expliquer les différences observées dans les choix éducationnels. Cette explication trouve sa logique en associant les aspirations sociales à des points de référence dans le cadre de la théorie des perspectives (prospect theory). Notre article mobilise l’économie expérimentale pour étudier la question des choix éducationnels dans ce contexte. Cent trente-neuf sujets ont participé à une expérience dans laquelle ils devaient réaliser une tâche distribuée sur quinze étapes regroupées en blocs ou niveaux. Pour poursuivre l’expérience, un minimum de succès dans les tâches réalisées devait être atteint. À la fin de chaque niveau, les participants choisissaient d’arrêter et d’encaisser leurs gains acquis ou de poursuivre contre un tarif donné pour espérer réaliser des gains supérieurs. Pour tester l’impact des différents niveaux d’aspirations, les résultats étaient mesurés comme des gains ou des pertes relativement à un montant donné. En conformité avec les prédictions théoriques, les participants dans le traitement perte ont choisi de poursuivre plus souvent l’expérience que ceux dans le traitement gain. Nous avons également noté un effet lié au genre du participant dans le traitement perte, avec les hommes performant mieux que les femmes et atteignant des niveaux supérieurs.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CIRANO in its series CIRANO Working Papers with number 2006s-27.

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Date of creation: 01 Dec 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2006s-27

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Keywords: education inequality; prospect theory; experimental economics; inégalité en éducation; théorie de la prospective; économie expérimentale;

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  1. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling," IZA Discussion Papers 518, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Rizzo, John A. & Zeckhauser, Richard J., 2007. "Pushing incomes to reference points: Why do male doctors earn more?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 514-536, July.
  3. Stephen V. Cameron & Christopher Taber, 2004. "Estimation of Educational Borrowing Constraints Using Returns to Schooling," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(1), pages 132-182, February.
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