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Aspiration Levels and Educational Choices An experimental study

Author

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  • Lionel Page
  • Louis Lévy-Garboua
  • Claude Montmarquette

Abstract

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 aspirations sociales à des points de référence dans le cadre de la théorie des perspectives (prospect theory). Notre article mobilise l'économie expérimentale pour étudier la question des choix éducationnels dans ce contexte. Cent trente-neuf sujets ont participé à une expérience dans laquelle ils devaient réaliser une tâche distribuée sur quinze étapes regroupées en blocs ou niveaux. Pour poursuivre l'expérience, un minimum de succès dans les tâches réalisées devait être atteint. À la fin de chaque niveau, les participants choisissaient d'arrêter et d'encaisser leurs gains acquis ou de poursuivre contre un tarif donné pour espérer réaliser des gains supérieurs. Pour tester l'impact des différents niveaux d'aspirations, les résultats étaient mesurés comme des gains ou des pertes relativement à un montant donné. En conformité avec les prédictions théoriques, les participants dans le traitement perte ont choisi de poursuivre plus souvent l'expérience que ceux dans le traitement gain. Nous avons également noté un effet lié au genre du participant dans le traitement perte, avec les hommes performant mieux que les femmes et atteignant des niveaux supérieurs.

Suggested Citation

  • Lionel Page & Louis Lévy-Garboua & Claude Montmarquette, 2006. "Aspiration Levels and Educational Choices An experimental study," CIRANO Working Papers 2006s-27, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2006s-27
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    File URL: http://www.cirano.qc.ca/files/publications/2006s-27.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post--secondary Schooling," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 705-734, October.
    3. 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.
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    1. repec:dau:papers:123456789/12016 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Bowden, Mark P. & Doughney, James, 2012. "The importance of cultural and economic influences behind the decision to attend higher education," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 95-103.
    3. Rocío Moreno-Sánchez & Vanesa Martínez & Jorge H. Maldonado & Arturo Rodríguez, 2017. "Cambios en bienestar subjetivo, aspiraciones y expectativas en participantes de programas de alivio a la pobreza: un análisis cualitativo de Produciendo por mi futuro en Colombia," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015818, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    4. Jaroslava Hlouskova & Panagiotis Tsigaris & Anetta Caplanova & Rudolf Sivak, 2017. "A behavioral portfolio approach to multiple job holdings," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 669-689, June.
    5. Nicolas Gury, 2011. "Dropping out of higher education in France: a micro-economic approach using survival analysis," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(1), pages 51-64.
    6. Lionel Page, 2010. "Experimental Economics method to study pupils motivation," Revue d'économie politique, Dalloz, vol. 120(5), pages 779-792.
    7. Arvid Hoffmann & Sam Henry & Nikos Kalogeras, 2013. "Aspirations as reference points: an experimental investigation of risk behavior over time," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 75(2), pages 193-210, August.
    8. Liam C. Malloy, 2015. "Loss aversion, education, and intergenerational mobility," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(3), pages 318-337, June.
    9. Claude Diebolt & Magali Jaoul-Grammare, 2016. "Cliométrie de l’enseignement supérieur : une analyse expérimentale de la théorie de l’engorgement," Working Papers 02-16, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
    10. Rocío Moreno-Sánchez & Vanesa Martínez & Jorge H. Maldonado & Arturo Rodríguez, 2018. "Changes in subjective well-being, aspirations and expectations in participants of poverty alleviation programs: A qualitative analysis of Produciendo Por Mi Futuro in Colombia," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015987, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    education inequality; prospect theory; experimental economics; inégalité en éducation; théorie de la prospective; économie expérimentale;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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