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Constrained After College: Student Loans and Early Career Occupational Choices

  • Jesse Rothstein
  • Cecilia Elena Rouse

In the early 2000s, a highly selective university introduced a "no-loans" policy under which the loan component of financial aid awards was replaced with grants. We use this natural experiment to identify the causal effect of student debt on employment outcomes. In the standard life-cycle model, young people make optimal educational investment decisions if they are able to finance these investments by borrowing against future earnings; the presence of debt has only income effects on future decisions. We find that debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid "public interest" jobs. We also find some evidence that debt affects students' academic decisions during college. Our estimates suggest that recent college graduates are not life-cycle agents. Two potential explanations are that young workers are credit constrained or that they are averse to holding debt. We find suggestive evidence that debt reduces students' donations to the institution in the years after they graduate and increases the likelihood that a graduate will default on a pledge made during her senior year; we argue this result is more likely consistent with credit constraints than with debt aversion.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13117.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13117.

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Date of creation: May 2007
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Publication status: published as Rothstein, Jesse & Rouse, Cecilia Elena, 2011. "Constrained after college: Student loans and early-career occupational choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 149-163.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13117
Note: CH ED LS
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  1. Rothstein, Jesse & Rouse, Cecilia Elena, 2011. "Constrained after college: Student loans and early-career occupational choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 149-163.
  2. Burdman, Pamela, 2005. "The Student Debt Dilemma: Debt Aversion as a Barrier to College Access," University of California at Berkeley, Center for Studies in Higher Education qt6sp9787j, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley.
  3. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2007. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," Working Papers 2011-037, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  4. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling," IZA Discussion Papers 518, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. David M. Linsenmeier & Harvey Rosen & Cecilia Rouse, 2001. "Financial Aid Packages and College Enrollment Decisions: An Econometric Case Study," Working Papers 838, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  6. Thomas F. Crossley & Hamish W. Low, 2004. "Borrowing Constraints, the Cost of Precautionary Saving, and Unemployment Insurance," Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Reports 391, McMaster University.
  7. Dolton, P. J. & Makepeace, G. H., 1993. "Female labour force participation and the choice of occupation: The supply of teachers," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(7), pages 1393-1411, October.
  8. Nielsen, Helena Skyt & Sørensen, Torben & Taber, Christopher, 2008. "Estimating the Effect of Student Aid on College Enrollment: Evidence from a Government Grant Policy Reform," IZA Discussion Papers 3785, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  10. Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner, 2008. "The Effect of Credit Constraints on the College Drop-Out Decision: A Direct Approach Using a New Panel Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2163-84, December.
  11. Charles F. Manski, 1987. "Academic Ability, Earnings, and the Decision to Become a Teacher: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972," NBER Chapters, in: Public Sector Payrolls, pages 291-316 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  13. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
  14. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2002. "Do Liquidity Constraints And Interest Rates Matter For Consumer Behavior? Evidence From Credit Card Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 149-185, February.
  15. Saul Pleeter & John T. Warner, 2001. "The Personal Discount Rate: Evidence from Military Downsizing Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 33-53, March.
  16. Jappelli, Tullio, 1990. "Who Is Credit Constrained in the U.S. Economy?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 219-34, February.
  17. Erica Field, 2009. "Educational Debt Burden and Career Choice: Evidence from a Financial Aid Experiment at NYU Law School," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 1-21, January.
  18. Mark A. Moore & Anthony E. Boardman & Aidan R. Vining & David L. Weimer & David H. Greenberg, 2004. "“Just give me a number!” Practical values for the social discount rate," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(4), pages 789-812.
  19. 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.
  20. Minicozzi, Alexandra, 2005. "The short term effect of educational debt on job decisions," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 417-430, August.
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