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Top of the Class: The Importance of Ordinal Rank

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  • Richard Murphy
  • Felix Weinhardt

Abstract

This paper establishes a new fact about educational production: ordinal academic rank during primary school has long-run impacts that are independent from underlying ability. Using data on the universe of English school students, we exploit naturally occurring differences in achievement distributions across primary school classes to estimate the impact of class rank conditional on relative achievement. We find large effects on test scores, confidence and subject choice during secondary school, where students have a new set of peers and teachers who are unaware of the students’ prior ranking. The effects are especially large for boys, contributing to an observed gender gap in end-of-high school STEM subject choices. Using a basic model of student effort allocation across subjects, we derive and test a hypothesis to distinguish between learning and non-cognitive skills mechanisms and find support for the latter.

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  • Richard Murphy & Felix Weinhardt, 2018. "Top of the Class: The Importance of Ordinal Rank," NBER Working Papers 24958, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24958
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    Cited by:

    1. Denning, Jeffrey T. & Murphy, Richard J. & Weinhardt, Felix, 2018. "Class Rank and Long-Run Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 11808, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Hinnerich, Björn Tyrefors & Vlachos, Jonas, 2017. "The impact of upper-secondary voucher school attendance on student achievement. Swedish evidence using external and internal evaluations," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 1-14.
    3. Damgaard, Mette Trier & Nielsen, Helena Skyt, 2018. "Nudging in education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 313-342.
    4. Dasgupta, Utteeyo & Mani, Subha & Sharma, Smriti & Singhal, Saurabh, 2017. "Cognitive, Socioemotional and Behavioral Returns to College Quality," IZA Discussion Papers 10701, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Luc Behaghel & Clément de Chaisemartin & Marc Gurgand, 2017. "Ready for Boarding? The Effects of a Boarding School for Disadvantaged Students," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 140-164, January.
    6. Fischer, Mira & Wagner, Valentin, 2018. "Effects of timing and reference frame of feedback: Evidence from a field experiment," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Market Behavior SP II 2018-206, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    7. Nirav Mehta & Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner, 2019. "Time‐Use And Academic Peer Effects In College," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 57(1), pages 162-171, January.
    8. Speer, Jamin D., 2017. "The gender gap in college major: Revisiting the role of pre-college factors," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 69-88.
    9. Michela Maria Tincani, 2017. "Heterogeneous Peer Effects and Rank Concerns: Theory and Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 6331, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Ballatore, Rosario Maria & Paccagnella, Marco & Tonello, Marco, 2017. "Bullied because younger than my mates? The effect of age rank on victimization at school," GLO Discussion Paper Series 116, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    11. Fischer, Mira & Wagner, Valentin, 2019. "Effects of Timing and Reference Frame of Feedback," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 150, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    12. Michela Tincani, 2017. "Heterogeneous Peer Effects and Rank Concerns: Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 2017-006, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    13. Nicolás de Roux & Evan Riehl, 2019. "Isolating Peer Effects in the Returns to College Selectivity," Documentos CEDE 017413, Universidad de los Andes - CEDE.
    14. Calsamiglia, Caterina & Loviglio, Annalisa, 2019. "Grading on a curve: When having good peers is not good," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 73(C).
    15. Schiltz, Fritz & Mazrekaj, Deni & Horn, Daniel & De Witte, Kristof, 2019. "Does it matter when your smartest peers leave your class? Evidence from Hungary," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 79-91.
    16. D'Este, Rocco & Einiö, Elias, 2018. "Asian Segregation and Scholastic Achievement: Evidence from Primary Schools in New York City," IZA Discussion Papers 11682, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    17. Maria Cotofan & Ron Diris & Trudie Schils, 2019. "The Heterogeneous Effects of Early Track Assignment on Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 19-038/V, Tinbergen Institute.
    18. Bai, John (Jianqiu) & Ma, Linlin & Mullally, Kevin A. & Solomon, David H., 2019. "What a difference a (birth) month makes: The relative age effect and fund manager performance," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(1), pages 200-221.
    19. Natalie Obergruber, 2018. "Mikroökonometrische Analyse der individuellen und institutionellen Determinanten von Bildung und Berufswahl," ifo Beiträge zur Wirtschaftsforschung, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, number 80.

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    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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