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Choice of Fields of Study of Canadian University Graduates: The Role of Gender and their Parents’ Education

  • Boudarbat, Brahim


    (University of Montreal)

  • Montmarquette, Claude


    (University of Montreal)

This paper examines the determinants of the choice of field of study by university students using data from the Canadian National Graduate Survey. The sample of 18,708 graduates holding a Bachelor degree is interesting in itself knowing that these students completed their study and thus represent a pool of high quality individuals. What impact expected post-graduation lifetime earnings have in choosing their field of study respectively to their non pecuniary preferences? Are these individuals less or more influenced by monetary incentives on their decision than was found in previous literature with samples of university students not all completing their studies successfully? Unlike existing studies, we account for the probability that students will be able to find employment related to their field of study when evaluating lifetime earnings after graduation. The parameters that drive students’ choices of fields of study are estimated using a mixed multinomial logit model applied to seven broadly defined fields. Results indicate that the weight put by a student on initial earnings and earnings’ rate of growth earnings depends upon the education level of the parent of the same gender. Surprisingly, lifetime earnings have no statistically significant impact when the parent of the same gender as the student has a university education. Results show that men are, in general, more sensitive than women to initial income variations, whilst women are more sensitive than men to the earnings’ rate of growth variations. Marital status, enrolment status and the vocation identified with each field of study are influential factors in students’ choices. From a policy perspective, a substantial increase in lifetime earnings, while all other factors remain constant, would be necessary to draw students into fields of study they are not inclined to choose initially.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2552.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2552
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  1. Montmarquette, C. & Cannings, C. & Mahseredjian,S., 1997. "How do Young People Choose College Majors?," Cahiers de recherche 9719, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.
  2. Solomon William Polachek, 1978. "Sex differences in college major," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 31(4), pages 498-508, July.
  3. Lee, Lung-Fei, 1983. "Generalized Econometric Models with Selectivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(2), pages 507-12, March.
  4. Blakemore, Arthur E & Low, Stuart A, 1984. "Sex Differences in Occupational Selection: The Case of College Majors," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 66(1), pages 157-63, February.
  5. Mark C. Berger, 1988. "Predicted future earnings and choice of college major," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 41(3), pages 418-429, April.
  6. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
  7. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  8. Lee, Lung-Fei, 1978. "Unionism and Wage Rates: A Simultaneous Equations Model with Qualitative and Limited Dependent Variables," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 19(2), pages 415-33, June.
  9. Borghans, Lex & Groot, Loek, 1999. "Educational presorting and occupational segregation," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 375-395, September.
  10. Robert J. Willis & Sherwin Rosen, 1978. "Education and Self-Selection," NBER Working Papers 0249, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2004. "Ability sorting and the returns to college major," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 343-375.
  12. Paglin, Morton & Rufolo, Anthony M, 1990. "Heterogeneous Human Capital, Occupational Choice, and Male-Female Earnings Differences," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 123-44, January.
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