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Preferences and Biases in Educational Choices and Labour Market Expectations: Shrinking the Black Box of Gender

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  • Ernesto Reuben
  • Matthew Wiswall
  • Basit Zafar

Abstract

Standard observed characteristics explain only part of the differences between men and women in education choices and labor market trajectories. Using an experiment to derive students' levels of overconfidence, and preferences for competitiveness and risk, this paper investigates whether these behavioral biases and preferences explain gender differences in college major choices and expected future earnings. In a sample of high ability undergraduates, we find that competitiveness and overconfidence, but not risk aversion, is systematically related with expectations about future earnings: individuals who are overconfident and overly competitive have significantly higher earnings expectations. Moreover, gender differences in overconfidence and competitiveness explain about 18% of the gender gap in earnings expectations. These experimental measures explain as much of the gender gap in earnings expectations as a rich set of control variables, including test scores and family background, and they are poorly proxied by these same control variables, underscoring that they represent independent variation. While expected earnings are related to college major choices, the experimental measures are not related with college major choice.
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  • Ernesto Reuben & Matthew Wiswall & Basit Zafar, 2017. "Preferences and Biases in Educational Choices and Labour Market Expectations: Shrinking the Black Box of Gender," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 127(604), pages 2153-2186, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:econjl:v:127:y:2017:i:604:p:2153-2186
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/ecoj.2017.127.issue-604
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    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D84 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Expectations; Speculations
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General

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