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Cheaper By the Dozen: Using Sibling Discounts at Catholic Schools to Estimate the Price Elasticity of Private School Attendance

  • Susan Dynarski
  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Danielle Li

The effect of vouchers on sorting between private and public schools depends upon the price elasticity of demand for private schooling. Estimating this elasticity is empirically challenging because prices and quantities are jointly determined in the market for private schooling. We exploit a unique and previously undocumented source of variation in private school tuition to estimate this key parameter. A majority of Catholic elementary schools offer discounts to families that enroll more than one child in the school in a given year. Catholic school tuition costs therefore depend upon the interaction of the number and spacing of a family's children with the pricing policies of the local school. This within-neighborhood variation in tuition prices allows us to control for unobserved determinants of demand with a set fine geographic group fixed effects while still identifying the price parameter. We analyze this variation by using data on over 3700 school tuition schedules collected from Catholic schools around the nation, matched to restricted Census data that identifies precise location that can be matched to the nearest Catholic school. We find that a standard deviation decrease in tuition prices increases the probability that a family will send its children to private school by one half percentage point, which translates into an elasticity of Catholic school attendance with respect to tuition costs of -0.19. Our subgroup results suggest that a voucher program would disproportionately induce into private schools those who, along observable dimensions, are unlike those who currently attend private school.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15461.

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Date of creation: Oct 2009
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15461
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  1. Neal, Derek, 1997. "The Effects of Catholic Secondary Schooling on Educational Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 98-123, January.
  2. Peltzman, Sam, 1973. "The Effect of Government Subsidies-in-Kind on Private Expenditures: The Case of Higher Education," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(1), pages 1-27, Jan.-Feb..
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  4. Dennis Epple & Richard Romano, 2002. "Educational Vouchers and Cream Skimming," NBER Working Papers 9354, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. David N. Figlio & Cecilia Rouse, 2005. "Do Accountability and Voucher Threats Improve Low-Performing Schools?," NBER Working Papers 11597, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Epple, Dennis & Romano, Richard E, 1998. "Competition between Private and Public Schools, Vouchers, and Peer-Group Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 33-62, March.
  8. Downes, Thomas A & Greenstein, Shane M, 2002. "Entry into the Schooling Market: How Is the Behaviour of Private Suppliers Influenced by Public Sector Decisions?," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(4), pages 341-71, October.
  9. Joseph G. Altonji & Todd E. Elder & Christopher R. Taber, 2000. "Selection on Observed and Unobserved Variables: Assessing the Effectiveness of Catholic Schools," NBER Working Papers 7831, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Daniel P. Mayer & Paul E. Peterson & David E. Myers & Christina Clark Tuttle & William G. Howell, 2002. "School Choice in New York City After Three Years: An Evaluation of the School Choice Scholarships Program," Mathematica Policy Research Reports bd29adb569094778a5981be0e, Mathematica Policy Research.
  11. Keeler, Andrew G. & Kriesel, Warren, 1994. "School Choice In Rural Georgia: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Southern Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 26(02), December.
  12. Cecilia Elena Rouse, 1998. "Private School Vouchers And Student Achievement: An Evaluation Of The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 553-602, May.
  13. William G. Howell & Patrick J. Wolf & David E. Campbell & Paul E. Peterson, 2002. "School vouchers and academic performance: results from three randomized field trials," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(2), pages 191-217.
  14. Derek Neal, 2002. "How Vouchers Could Change the Market for Education," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(4), pages 25-44, Fall.
  15. Buddin, Richard J. & Cordes, Joseph J. & Kirby, Sheila Nataraj, 1998. "School Choice in California: Who Chooses Private Schools?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 110-134, July.
  16. Figlio, David N. & Stone, Joe A., 2001. "Can Public Policy Affect Private School Cream Skimming?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 240-266, March.
  17. Jonathan Gruber, 2004. "Pay or Pray? The Impact of Charitable Subsidies on Religious Attendance," NBER Working Papers 10374, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  20. Downes, Thomas A. & Zabel, Jeffrey E., 2002. "The impact of school characteristics on house prices: Chicago 1987-1991," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 1-25, July.
  21. Gruber, Jonathan, 2004. "Pay or pray? The impact of charitable subsidies on religious attendance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2635-2655, December.
  22. Jonathan Gruber, 2005. "Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?," NBER Working Papers 11377, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Lankford, Hamilton & Wyckoff, James, 2001. "Who Would Be Left Behind by Enhanced Private School Choice?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 288-312, September.
  24. Joseph G. Altonji & Todd E. Elder & Christopher R. Taber, 2005. "An Evaluation of Instrumental Variable Strategies for Estimating the Effects of Catholic Schooling," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(4), pages 791-821.
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  26. repec:mpr:mprres:3180 is not listed on IDEAS
  27. Gruber Jonathan H, 2005. "Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-32, September.
  28. Stiglitz, J. E., 1974. "The demand for education in public and private school systems," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 349-385, November.
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