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Investment over the Business Cycle: Insights from College Major Choice

Author

Listed:
  • Blom, Erica

    () (affiliation not available)

  • Cadena, Brian C.

    () (University of Colorado, Boulder)

  • Keys, Benjamin J.

    () (Harris School, University of Chicago)

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between individuals' personal exposure to economic conditions and their investment choices in the context of human capital. Focusing on bachelor's degree recipients, we find that birth cohorts exposed to higher unemployment rates during typical schooling years select majors that earn higher wages, that have better employment prospects, and that more often lead to work in a related field. Much of this switching behavior can be considered a rational response to differences in particular majors' labor market prospects during a recession. However, higher unemployment leads to other meaningful changes in the distribution of majors. Conditional on changes in lifetime expected earnings, recessions encourage women to enter male-dominated fields, and students of both genders pursue more difficult majors, such as STEM fields. These findings imply that the economic environment changes how students select majors, possibly by encouraging them to consider a broader range of possible degree fields. Finally, in the absence of this compensating behavior, we estimate that the average estimated costs of graduating in a recession would be roughly ten percent larger.

Suggested Citation

  • Blom, Erica & Cadena, Brian C. & Keys, Benjamin J., 2015. "Investment over the Business Cycle: Insights from College Major Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 9167, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp9167
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hershbein Brad J., 2012. "Graduating High School in a Recession: Work, Education, and Home Production," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-32, January.
    2. Arcidiacono, Peter & Hotz, V. Joseph & Kang, Songman, 2012. "Modeling college major choices using elicited measures of expectations and counterfactuals," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 166(1), pages 3-16.
    3. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
    4. John Bound & Michael F. Lovenheim & Sarah Turner, 2010. "Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 129-157, July.
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    6. Magali Beffy & Denis Fougère & Arnaud Maurel, 2012. "Choosing the Field of Study in Postsecondary Education: Do Expected Earnings Matter?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 334-347, February.
    7. Justine S. Hastings & Christopher A. Neilson & Seth D. Zimmerman, 2013. "Are Some Degrees Worth More than Others? Evidence from college admission cutoffs in Chile," NBER Working Papers 19241, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Harris Dellas & Plutarchos Sakellaris, 2003. "On the cyclicality of schooling: theory and evidence," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 55(1), pages 148-172, January.
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    10. Sakellaris, Plutarchos & Spilimbergo, Antonio, 2000. "Business cycles and investment in human capital: international evidence on higher education," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 221-256, June.
    11. Janet Currie & Hannes Schwandt, 2015. "Short and Long-Term Effects of Unemployment on Fertility," CEP Discussion Papers dp1387, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
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    15. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:bla:coecpo:v:37:y:2019:i:3:p:476-491 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Weinstein, Russell, 2017. "Local Labor Markets and Human Capital Investments," IZA Discussion Papers 10598, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Alena Bicakova & Guido Matias Cortes & Jacopo Mazza, 2018. "Caught in the Cycle: Economic Conditions at Enrollment and Labor Market Outcomes of College Graduates," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp622, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    4. Hendrik Beiler, 2016. "Do You Dare? The Effect of Economic Conditions on Entrepreneurship among College Graduates," Working Paper Series in Economics 88, University of Cologne, Department of Economics.
    5. Michael R. Ransom & Aaron Phipps, 2017. "The Changing Occupational Distribution by College Major," Research in Labor Economics,in: Skill Mismatch in Labor Markets, volume 45, pages 129-171 Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    6. Shimeng Liu & Weizeng Sun & John V. Winters, 2019. "Up In Stem, Down In Business: Changing College Major Decisions With The Great Recession," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(3), pages 476-491, July.
    7. Adriana D. Kugler & Catherine H. Tinsley & Olga Ukhaneva, 2017. "Choice of Majors: Are Women Really Different from Men?," NBER Working Papers 23735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Graves, Jennifer. & Kuehn, Zoë., 2018. "Specializing in growing sectors: Wage returns and gender differences," Working Papers in Economic Theory 2018/01, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), Department of Economic Analysis (Economic Theory and Economic History).
    9. Margaret Leighton & Jamin Speer, 2017. "Labor Market Returns to College Major Specificity," Discussion Paper Series, Department of Economics 201709, Department of Economics, University of St. Andrews, revised 21 Dec 2017.
    10. Joseph G. Altonji & Peter Arcidiacono & Arnaud Maurel, 2015. "The Analysis of Field Choice in College and Graduate School: Determinants and Wage Effects," NBER Working Papers 21655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. repec:eee:labeco:v:47:y:2017:i:c:p:64-74 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Kugler, Adriana D. & Tinsley, Catherine & Ukhaneva, Olga, 2017. "Choice of Majors: Are Women Really Different from Men?," CEPR Discussion Papers 12229, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    13. Kugler, Adriana & Tinsley, Catherine H. & Ukhaneva, Olga, 2017. "Choice of Majors: Are Women Really Different from Men?," IZA Discussion Papers 10947, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    college major; business cycle; human capital investment; STEM majors; gender differences;

    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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