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The Younger, the Better? Relative Age Effects at University

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Author Info

  • Billari, Francesco C.

    ()
    (University of Oxford)

  • Pellizzari, Michele

    ()
    (University of Geneva)

Abstract

In this paper we estimate relative age effects in academic performance using a unique database of students at Bocconi University. The identification exploits school entry cut-off ages that generate up to 11 months difference between the youngest and the oldest students within each cohort. Our data allow to control for potential selection issues as well as for differences in cognitive ability, as measured by an attitudinal entry test. Contrary to most of the existing evidence for primary school children, we document that in university the youngest students perform better compared to their oldest peers, particularly in the most technical subjects. To rationalize this result we produce additional evidence on relative age effects in cognitive ability and in social behavior using a combination of data from Bocconi admission tests and from a survey on the social behavior of Italian first-year university students. We find that the youngest students in the cohort perform slightly better in cognitive tests and also appear to have less active social lives: they are less likely to do sports, go to discos and have love relationships. These results suggest that negative relative age effects in university performance might be generated by two mechanisms: (i) a profile of cognitive development that might be decreasing already around age 20; (ii) psychological relative age effects that lead the youngest in a cohort to develop social skills (self-esteem, leadership) at a slower pace. Younger students, thus, have less active social lives and devote more time to studying, as confirmed by additional evidence from the PISA study.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3795.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Population Economics, 2012, 25 (2), 697-739
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3795

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Keywords: relative age; education;

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References

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  1. Pietro Garibaldi & Francesco Giavazzi & Andrea Ichino & Enrico Rettore, 2007. "College Cost and Time to Complete a Degree: Evidence from Tuition Discontinuities," NBER Working Papers 12863, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2004. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," NBER Working Papers 10522, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. James J. Heckman & Dimitriy V. Masterov, 2007. "The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children," NBER Working Papers 13016, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Costas Meghir, 2007. "When You Are Born Matters: The Imapct of Date of Birth on Child Cognitive Outcomes in England," CEE Discussion Papers 0093, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  5. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman, 2010. "Investing in Our Young People," NBER Working Papers 16201, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Dhuey, Elizabeth & Lipscomb, Stephen, 2008. "What makes a leader? Relative age and high school leadership," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 173-183, April.
  7. De Giorgi, Giacomo & Pellizzari, Michele & Redaelli, Silvia, 2007. "Be as Careful of the Books You Read as of the Company You Keep: Evidence on Peer Effects in Educational Choices," IZA Discussion Papers 2833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Kelly Bedard & Elizabeth Dhuey, 2006. "The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1437-1472, November.
  9. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro & Flavio Cunha, 2004. "The Technology of Skill Formation," 2004 Meeting Papers 681, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  10. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Alissa Goodman & Barbara Sianesi, 2005. "Early education and children's outcomes: low long do the impacts last?," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 26(4), pages 513-548, December.
  12. Fredriksson, Peter & Öckert, Björn, 2006. "Is early learning really more productive? The effect of school starting age on school and labor market performance," Working Paper Series 2006:12, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
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Cited by:
  1. Daniel Muller & Lionel Page, 2013. "Political Selection and the Relative Age Effect," QuBE Working Papers 009, QUT Business School.
  2. Herbert Dawid & Gerd Mühlheusser, 2012. "Repeated Selection with Heterogenous Individuals and Relative Age Effects," CESifo Working Paper Series 3786, CESifo Group Munich.

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