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Girls, Boys, and High Achievers

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  • Angela Cools
  • Raquel Fernández
  • Eleonora Patacchini

Abstract

This paper studies the effect of exposure to female and male “high-achievers” in high school on the long-run educational outcomes of their peers. Using data from a recent cohort of students in the United States, we identify a causal effect by exploiting quasi-random variation in the exposure of students to peers with highly educated parents across cohorts within a school. We find that greater exposure to “high-achieving” boys, as proxied by their parents' education, decreases the likelihood that girls go on to complete a bachelor's degree, substituting the latter with junior college degrees. It also affects negatively their math and science grades and, in the long term, decreases labor force participation and increases fertility. We explore possible mechanisms and find that greater exposure leads to lower self-confidence and aspirations and to more risky behavior (including having a child before age 18). The girls most strongly affected are those in the bottom half of the ability distribution (as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test), those with at least one college-educated parent, and those attending a school in the upper half of the socioeconomic distribution. The effects are quantitatively important: an increase of one standard deviation in the percent of “high-achieving” boys decreases the probability of obtaining a bachelor's degree from 2.2-4.5 percentage points, depending on the group. Greater exposure to “high-achieving” girls, on the other hand, increases bachelor's degree attainment for girls in the lower half of the ability distribution, those without a college-educated parent, and those attending a school in the upper half of the socio-economic distribution. The effect of “high-achievers” on male outcomes is markedly different: boys are unaffected by “high-achievers” of either gender.

Suggested Citation

  • Angela Cools & Raquel Fernández & Eleonora Patacchini, 2019. "Girls, Boys, and High Achievers," NBER Working Papers 25763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:25763
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    Cited by:

    1. Brunello, Giorgio & Sanz-de-Galdeano, Anna & Terskaya, Anastasia, 2020. "Not only in my genes: The effects of peers’ genotype on obesity," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C).
    2. Borbely, Daniel & Norris, Jonathan & Romiti, Agnese, 2021. "Peer Gender and Schooling: Evidence from Ethiopia," IZA Discussion Papers 14439, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Yann Bramoullé & Habiba Djebbari & Bernard Fortin, 2020. "Peer Effects in Networks: A Survey," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 12(1), pages 603-629, August.
    4. Modena, Francesca & Rettore, Enrico & Tanzi, Giulia, 2021. "Does Gender Matter? The Effect of High Performing Peers on Academic Performances," IZA Discussion Papers 14806, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Judith M. Delaney & Paul J. Devereux, 2021. "Gender and Educational Achievement: Stylized Facts and Causal Evidence," Working Papers 202103, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    6. Simone Balestra & Aurelien Sallin & Stefan C. Wolter, 2020. "High-Ability Influencers? The Heterogeneous Effects of Gifted Classmates," Economics of Education Working Paper Series 0170, University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW).
    7. Shelly Lundberg, 2020. "Educational gender gaps," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 87(2), pages 416-439, October.
    8. Chung, Bobby W., 2020. "Peers’ parents and educational attainment: The exposure effect," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(C).
    9. Lukas Kiessling & Jonathan Norris, 2020. "The long-run effects of peers on mental health," Working Papers 2006, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
    10. Jan Feld & Ulf Zölitz, 2021. "The effect of higher-achieving peers on major choices and labor market outcomes," ECON - Working Papers 388, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    11. Hsieh, Chih-Sheng & Lin, Xu & Patacchini, Eleonora, 2019. "Social Interaction Methods," CEPR Discussion Papers 14141, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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