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The Younger, the Better? Relative Age Effects at University

  • Billari, Francesco C.

    ()

    (University of Oxford)

  • Pellizzari, Michele

    ()

    (University of Geneva)

In this paper we estimate relative age effects in academic performance using a unique database of students at Bocconi University. The identification exploits school entry cut-off ages that generate up to 11 months difference between the youngest and the oldest students within each cohort. Our data allow to control for potential selection issues as well as for differences in cognitive ability, as measured by an attitudinal entry test. Contrary to most of the existing evidence for primary school children, we document that in university the youngest students perform better compared to their oldest peers, particularly in the most technical subjects. To rationalize this result we produce additional evidence on relative age effects in cognitive ability and in social behavior using a combination of data from Bocconi admission tests and from a survey on the social behavior of Italian first-year university students. We find that the youngest students in the cohort perform slightly better in cognitive tests and also appear to have less active social lives: they are less likely to do sports, go to discos and have love relationships. These results suggest that negative relative age effects in university performance might be generated by two mechanisms: (i) a profile of cognitive development that might be decreasing already around age 20; (ii) psychological relative age effects that lead the youngest in a cohort to develop social skills (self-esteem, leadership) at a slower pace. Younger students, thus, have less active social lives and devote more time to studying, as confirmed by additional evidence from the PISA study.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3795.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Population Economics, 2012, 25 (2), 697-739
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3795
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  1. James Heckman & Flavio Cunha, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 31-47, May.
  2. Fredriksson, Peter & Öckert, Björn, 2006. "Is early learning really more productive? The effect of school starting age on school and labor market performance," Working Paper Series 2006:12, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
  3. James J. Heckman & Dimitriy V. Masterov, 2007. "The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children ," Review of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 29(3), pages 446-493.
  4. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2003. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-036, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Costas Meghir, 2007. "When You Are Born Matters: The Imapct of Date of Birth on Child Cognitive Outcomes in England," CEE Discussion Papers 0093, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  6. De Giorgi, Giacomo & Pellizzari, Michele & Redaelli, Silvia, 2007. "Be as Careful of the Books You Read as of the Company You Keep: Evidence on Peer Effects in Educational Choices," IZA Discussion Papers 2833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Alissa Goodman & Barbara Sianesi, 2005. "Early education and children's outcomes: low long do the impacts last?," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 26(4), pages 513-548, December.
  9. Francesco Giavazzi & Pietro Garibaldi & Andrea Ichino & Enrico Rettore, 2009. "College cost and time to complete a degree: Evidence from tuition discontinuities," Working Papers 354, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  10. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J., 2010. "Investing in Our Young People," IZA Discussion Papers 5050, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Dhuey, Elizabeth & Lipscomb, Stephen, 2008. "What makes a leader? Relative age and high school leadership," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 173-183, April.
  12. Kelly Bedard & Elizabeth Dhuey, 2006. "The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1437-1472, November.
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