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Elite Colleges and Upward Mobility to Top Jobs and Top Incomes

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  • Seth D. Zimmerman

Abstract

This paper asks whether elite colleges help students outside of historically advantaged groups reach top positions in the economy. I combine administrative data on income and leadership teams at publicly traded firms with a regression discontinuity design based on admissions rules at elite business-focused degree programs in Chile. The 1.8% of college students admitted to these programs account for 41% of leadership positions and 39% of top 0.1% incomes. Admission raises the number of leadership positions students hold by 44% and their probability of attaining a top 0.1% income by 51%. However, these gains are driven by male applicants from high-tuition private high schools, with zero effects for female students or students from other school types with similar admissions test scores. Admissions effects are equal to 38% of the gap in rates of top attainment by gender and 54% of the gap by high school background for male students. A difference-in-differences analysis of the rates at which pairs of students lead the same firms suggests that peer ties formed between college classmates from similar backgrounds may play an important role in driving the observed effects.

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  • Seth D. Zimmerman, 2019. "Elite Colleges and Upward Mobility to Top Jobs and Top Incomes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(1), pages 1-47, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:109:y:2019:i:1:p:1-47
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20171019
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • I26 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Returns to Education
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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