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Preference submission timing in school choice matching: testing fairness and efficiency in the laboratory


  • Jaimie Lien


  • Jie Zheng


  • Xiaohan Zhong



We investigate the relative merits of the Boston and Serial Dictatorship mechanisms when the timing of students’ preference submission over schools varies within the structure of the mechanism. Despite the well-documented disadvantages of the Boston mechanism Abdulkadiroglu and Sonmez (American Economic Review 93:729–747 2003 ), we hypothesize that a Boston mechanism where students are required to submit their preferences before the realization of their exam scores, can in fact have fairness and efficiency advantages compared to the often favored Serial Dictatorship mechanism. We test these hypotheses in a series of laboratory experiments which vary by the class of mechanism implemented, and the preference submission timing by students, reflective of actual policy changes which have occurred in China. Our experimental findings confirm the efficiency hypothesis straightforwardly, and lend support to the fairness hypothesis when subjects have the chance to learn with experience. The results have important policy implications for school choice mechanism design when students’ relative rankings by schools are initially uncertain. Copyright Economic Science Association 2016

Suggested Citation

  • Jaimie Lien & Jie Zheng & Xiaohan Zhong, 2016. "Preference submission timing in school choice matching: testing fairness and efficiency in the laboratory," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(1), pages 116-150, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:19:y:2016:i:1:p:116-150
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-015-9430-7

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    Cited by:

    1. Lien, Jaimie W. & Zheng, Jie & Zhong, Xiaohan, 2017. "Ex-ante fairness in the Boston and serial dictatorship mechanisms under pre-exam and post-exam preference submission," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 98-120.
    2. Yan Chen & Onur Kesten, 2017. "Chinese College Admissions and School Choice Reforms: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(1), pages 99-139.

    More about this item


    School choice matching; Uncertainty; Experiments; College admission; C78; C92; D81; I28;

    JEL classification:

    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy


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