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Determinants of college major choice: identification using an information experiment

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  • Wiswall, Matthew

    () (Arizona State University)

  • Zafar, Basit

    (Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Abstract

This paper studies the determinants of college major choice using an experimentally generated panel of beliefs, obtained by providing students with information on the true population distribution of various major-specific characteristics. Students logically revise their beliefs in response to the information, and their subjective beliefs about future major choice are associated with beliefs about their own earnings and ability. We estimate a rich model of college major choice using the panel of beliefs data. While expected earnings and perceived ability are a significant determinant of major choice, heterogeneous tastes are the dominant factor in the choice of major. Analyses that ignore the correlation in tastes with earnings expectations inflate the role of earnings in college major choices. We conclude by computing the welfare gains from the information experiment and find positive average welfare gains.

Suggested Citation

  • Wiswall, Matthew & Zafar, Basit, 2011. "Determinants of college major choice: identification using an information experiment," Staff Reports 500, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, revised 01 Aug 2014.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:500
    Note: For a published version of this report, see Matthew Wiswall and Basit Zafar, "Determinants of College Major Choice: Identification Using an Information Experiment," Review of Economic Studies 82, no. 2 (April 2015): 791-824.
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    college majors; information; subjective expectations; uncertainty;

    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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