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Peer effects in higher education: A look at heterogeneous impacts


  • Griffith, Amanda L.
  • Rask, Kevin N.


This paper uses data on roommates from two different selective institutions to investigate the effect of peers on first-year performance, with a specific focus on the underlying mechanism. We compare measures of academic ability across student sub-groups by race, income, and gender, and across institutions. Male, minority, and aided students are affected most strongly by their peers. The size and presence of peer effects are dependent on the ability measure used as well as the setting. Standardized estimates suggest ability measured by high school grades have roughly twice the effect of ability measured by SATs. We also test the use of a standardized measure of first-year performance and find more consistent evidence of peer effects across both schools. Our results provide an explanation for the mixed findings in the literature and suggest that the driving force behind peer effects lies in the transfer of general academic know-how rather than in the teaching of specific knowledge or social proximity.

Suggested Citation

  • Griffith, Amanda L. & Rask, Kevin N., 2014. "Peer effects in higher education: A look at heterogeneous impacts," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 65-77.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:39:y:2014:i:c:p:65-77 DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2014.01.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David J. Zimmerman, 2003. "Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(1), pages 9-23, February.
    2. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2005. "Social Preferences and the Response to Incentives: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 917-962.
    3. Alexandre Mas & Enrico Moretti, 2009. "Peers at Work," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 112-145, March.
    4. Charles F. Manski, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(3), pages 531-542.
    5. Jonathan Guryan & Kory Kroft & Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2009. "Peer Effects in the Workplace: Evidence from Random Groupings in Professional Golf Tournaments," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(4), pages 34-68, October.
    6. 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, July.
    7. Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Peer Effects with Random Assignment: Results for Dartmouth Roommates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 681-704.
    8. Caroline Hoxby, 2000. "Peer Effects in the Classroom: Learning from Gender and Race Variation," NBER Working Papers 7867, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Stinebrickner, Ralph & Stinebrickner, Todd R., 2006. "What can be learned about peer effects using college roommates? Evidence from new survey data and students from disadvantaged backgrounds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(8-9), pages 1435-1454, September.
    10. George R. Goethals, 2001. "Peer effects, gender and intellectual performance among students at a highly selective college: a social comparison of abilities analysis," Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education DP-61, Department of Economics, Williams College.
    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. Christopher Jepsen & Steven Rivkin, 2009. "Class Size Reduction and Student Achievement: The Potential Tradeoff between Teacher Quality and Class Size," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 44(1).
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    Cited by:

    1. Hill, Andrew J., 2017. "The positive influence of female college students on their male peers," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 151-160.
    2. Oleg Poldin & Diliara Valeeva & Maria Yudkevich, 2016. "Which Peers Matter: How Social Ties Affect Peer-group Effects," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 57(4), pages 448-468, June.
    3. Patacchini, Eleonora & Rainone, Edoardo & Zenou, Yves, 2017. "Heterogeneous peer effects in education," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 190-227.
    4. Oleg V. Poldin & Tania P. Simoes & Marcelo Knobel & Maria M. Yudkevich, 2015. "Estimation of Peer Effects with Predicted Social Ties: Evidence from Two Universities in Brazil and Russia," HSE Working papers WP BRP 30/EDU/2015, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    5. Ekaterina V. Krekhovets & Liudmila A. Leonova, 2016. "Social Ties of University Students: Evidence from a Longitudinal Survey in Russia," HSE Working papers WP BRP 33/EDU/2016, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    6. repec:hig:wpaper:33edu2015 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Peer effects; Analysis of education;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education


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