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Peer Effects in the Classroom: Learning from Gender and Race Variation

  • Caroline Hoxby

Peer effects are potentially important for understanding the optimal organization of schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, but finding evidence is difficult because people are selected into peer groups based, in part, on their unobservable characteristics. I identify the effects of peers whom a child encounters in the classroom using sources of variation that are credibly idiosyncratic, such as changes in the gender and racial composition of a grade in a school in adjacent years. I use specification tests, including one based on randomizing the order of years, to confirm that the variation I use is not generated by time trends or other non-idiosyncratic forces. I find that students are affected by the achievement level of their peers: a credibly exogenous change of 1 point in peers' reading scores raises a student's own score between 0.15 and 0.4 points, depending on the specification. Although I find little evidence that peer effects are generally non-linear, I do find that peer effects are stronger intra-race and that some effects do not operate through peers' achievement. For instance, both males and females perform better in math in classrooms that are more female despite the fact that females' math performance is about the same as that of males.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7867.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7867.

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Date of creation: Aug 2000
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7867
Note: CH LS PE
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  1. 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.
  2. Kremer, Michael, 1993. "The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 551-75, August.
  3. Laura M. Argys & Daniel I. Rees & Dominic J. Brewer, 1996. "Detracking America's schools: Equity at zero cost?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(4), pages 623-645.
  4. Banerjee, A.V. & Besley, T., 1990. "Peer Group Externalities And The Learning Incentives: A Theory Of Nerd Behavior," Papers 68, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Discussion Paper.
  5. David J. Zimmerman, 2003. "Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(1), pages 9-23, February.
  6. Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Peer Effects With Random Assignment: Results For Dartmouth Roommates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(2), pages 681-704, May.
  7. Case, A.C. & Katz, L.F., 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects Of Family And Neighborhood On Disadvantaged Younths," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1555, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  8. Thomas J. Nechyba, 1996. "Public School Finance in a General Equilibrium Tiebout World: Equalization Programs, Peer Effects and Private School Vouchers," NBER Working Papers 5642, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Benabou, Roland, 1996. "Heterogeneity, Stratification, and Growth: Macroeconomic Implications of Community Structure and School Finance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 584-609, June.
  10. Julian R. Betts & Darlene Morell, 1999. "The Determinants of Undergraduate Grade Point Average: The Relative Importance of Family Background, High School Resources, and Peer Group Effects," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(2), pages 268-293.
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