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