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Aspiration levels and educational choices: An experimental study

  • Page, Lionel
  • Levy Garboua, Louis
  • Montmarquette, Claude

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 aspir

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics of Education Review.

Volume (Year): 26 (2007)
Issue (Month): 6 (December)
Pages: 747-757

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:26:y:2007:i:6:p:747-757
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/econedurev

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  1. 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.
  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. Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling," NBER Working Papers 9055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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