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Social Approval and Occupational Choice


  • Anandi Mani

    () (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

  • Charles H. Mullin

    () (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)


We examine the impact of a desire for social approval on education and occupation choice and model the endogenous determination of perceptions that influence such approval. In a two-sector overlapping generations framework, agents born with ability endowments in both occupations must choose one as their career. An agent's choice is influenced by social approval, which depends upon the community's perception of her ability in her chosen career. The accuracy of a community's perception increases with the fraction of its members performing similar work, because it is easier to assess ability in one's own profession. With positive correlation in skills, the desire for social approval, combined with imperfect assessment of ability, leads to multiple steady states. In all steady states there is overcrowding in the favorably perceived occupation, with misallocation across both occupations. Which sector becomes the favorable occupation depends on the initial occupational composition in the community. When skill distributions differ across sectors, positive correlation in skills can result in a low-education trap as described by Wilson(1987) -- i.e. the entire community opts for the low variance (low-skilled) occupation. The model explains when individual pecuniary incentives may not reduce under-investment in education, and suggests alternative solutions to improve outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Anandi Mani & Charles H. Mullin, 2000. "Social Approval and Occupational Choice," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0041, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0041

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oded Galor & Joseph Zeira, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52.
    2. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-877, October.
    3. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser, 1997. "Are Ghettos Good or Bad?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(3), pages 827-872.
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