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The Effect of Family Background on Student Effort

  • Kuehn, Zoe
  • Landeras, Pedro

While students from more advantageous family backgrounds tend to perform better, it is not clear that they exert more effort compared to those from less advantageous family backgrounds. We build a model of students, schools, and employers to study the interaction of family background and effort exerted by the student in the education process. Academic qualifications, which entail an income premium in the labor market, are noisily determined by effort and the student's ability to benefit from education, which in turn depends on her family background and innate talent. In a situation where schools set the optimal passing standard, two factors turn out to be key in determining the relationship between effort and family background: (i) the student's risk aversion and (ii) the degree with which family background alters the student's marginal productivity of effort. We show that when the degree of risk aversion is relatively low (high) compared to the sensitivity of the marginal productivity of the student's effort with respect to her family background, the relation between effort and family background is positive (negative) and students from more advantageous family backgrounds exert more (less) effort. Considering Spanish data and controlling for school fixed effects, we find that an improvement in parental education from not having completed compulsory education to holding a university degree is associated to around 15% more effort by the student(approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes of additional weekly homework). We also find empirical evidence consistent with our assumption that students' marginal productivity of effort varies with family background.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 40531.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:40531
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  1. Todd R. Stinebrickner & Ralph Stinebrickner, 2007. "The Causal Effect of Studying on Academic Performance," University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity Working Papers 20072, University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity.
  2. Fernando Galindo-Rueda & Anna Vignoles, 2003. "Class Ridden or Meritocratic? An Economic Analysis of Recent Changes in Britain," CEE Discussion Papers 0032, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  3. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2004. "Earnings Dispersion, Risk Aversion and Education," Post-Print halshs-00180125, HAL.
  4. Christian Belzil & Marco Leonardi, 2007. "Can Risk Aversion Explain Schooling Attainments?: evidence from Italy," Post-Print halshs-00201351, HAL.
  5. Jo Blanden & Paul Gregg, 2004. "Family income and educational attainment : a review of approaches and evidence for Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 333, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  6. De Fraja, Gianni & Landeras, Pedro, 2006. "Could do better: The effectiveness of incentives and competition in schools," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 189-213, January.
  7. Gianni de Fraja, 2002. "The Design of Optimal Education Policies," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 437-466.
  8. Jo Blanden, 2004. "Family Income and Educational Attainment: A Review of Approaches and Evidence for Britain," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(2), pages 245-263, Summer.
  9. De Fraja, Gianni & Oliveira, Tania & Zanchi, Luisa, 2005. "Must Try Harder. Evaluating the Role of Effort in Educational Attainment," CEPR Discussion Papers 5048, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Gianni De Fraja, 2005. "Reverse Discrimination And Efficiency In Education," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 46(3), pages 1009-1031, 08.
  11. Pedro Landeras, 2009. "Student effort: standards vs. tournaments," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(9), pages 965-969.
  12. Brindusa Anghel & Antonio Cabrales, 2010. "The Determinants of Success in Primary Education in Spain," Working Papers 2010-20, FEDEA.
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