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The role of peers and grades in determining major persistence in the sciences

  • Ost, Ben
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    Using longitudinal administrative data from a large elite research university, this paper analyzes the role of peers and grades in determining major persistence in the life and physical sciences. In the physical sciences, analyses using within-course, across-time variation show that ex-ante measures of peer quality in a student's introductory courses has a lasting impact on the probability of persisting in the major. This peer effect exhibits important non-linearities such that weak students benefit from exposure to stronger peers while strong students are not dragged down by weaker peers. In both the physical and the life sciences, I find evidence that students are "pulled away" by their high grades in non-science courses and "pushed out" by their low grades in their major field. In the physical sciences, females are found to be more responsive to grades than males, consistent with psychological theories of stereotype vulnerability.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6VB9-50G06CB-3/2/de9112bc14978c91f42618d7942d336b
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics of Education Review.

    Volume (Year): 29 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 6 (December)
    Pages: 923-934

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:29:y:2010:i:6:p:923-934
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/econedurev

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    1. Richard Sabot & John Wakeman-Linn, 1991. "Grade Inflation and Course Choice," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 159-170, Winter.
    2. Ann L. Owen, 2010. "Grades, Gender, and Encouragement: A Regression Discontinuity Analysis," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(3), pages 217-234, June.
    3. 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.
    4. Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2009. "Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(3), pages 93-108, Summer.
    5. Sarah E. Turner & William G. Bowen, 1999. "Choice of major: The changing (unchanging) gender gap," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(2), pages 289-313, January.
    6. repec:att:wimass:9127 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Han, Li & Li, Tao, 2009. "The gender difference of peer influence in higher education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 129-134, February.
    8. Zimmerman, David J., 1999. "Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes: Evidence From a Natural Experiment," Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education DP-52, Department of Economics, Williams College.
    9. Todd R. Stinebrickner & Ralph Stinebrickner, 2005. "What Can Be Learned About Peer Effects Using College Roommates? Evidence From New Survey Data and Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds," University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity Working Papers 20054, University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity.
    10. Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Peer Effects With Random Assignment: Results For Dartmouth Roommates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 681-704, May.
    11. Foster, Gigi, 2006. "It's not your peers, and it's not your friends: Some progress toward understanding the educational peer effect mechanism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(8-9), pages 1455-1475, September.
    12. Scott E. Carrell & Richard L. Fullerton & James E. West, 2009. "Does Your Cohort Matter? Measuring Peer Effects in College Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(3), pages 439-464, 07.
    13. Rask, Kevin & Tiefenthaler, Jill, 2008. "The role of grade sensitivity in explaining the gender imbalance in undergraduate economics," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 676-687, December.
    14. Manski, Charles F, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 531-42, July.
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