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The role of distances and parents’ educational background in university field of study choice

  • Tuomo Suhonen

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    Numerous studies have found that school proximity and parents’ educational background affect individuals’ educational attainment, while less evidence has been presented on the role of these factors in the choice of university field of study. Especially, in a geographically vast and scarcely populated country, such as Finland, distances may have an important effect on these choices, as the variety of fields and majors in students’ nearest universities vary considerably across locations. Parents’ influence on the field of study choice could, then again, arise from inherited or learned career preferences that lead individuals to graduate from the same fields as their parents did. In addition, field of study choices could be affected by the same-sex effect: men may prefer fields chosen by their fathers, while women may prefer fields chosen by their mothers. By using a register-based data set provided by Statistics Finland, this paper analyses the field of study choices of Finnish university students who graduated from high school between 1991 and 1996. The study’s emphasis is on analyzing to what extent the individuals’ field of study choices are associated with the location of high school and the resulting shortest distances to enroll in different fields, and to what extent individuals choose the same field as their father or mother did. The econometric analysis relies on multinomial discrete choices models and the use of controls, e.g., for pre-university grades in first language and math. The estimation results suggest that an increase in the distance to enroll in a field significantly decreases the probability of choosing that field, which applies both for men and women. The evidence of parental effects is more mixed: whereas men’s probability to self-select into a field is, on average, strongly associated with father having graduated from that field, no significant average parental effects are found for women. Furthermore, the results from a mixed logit analysis suggest that, while the effect of distance to enroll is roughly constant across individuals, the parental effects exhibit considerable individual heterogeneity. These results indicate that policies aiming to transform multidisciplinary universities into more specialized institutions could have unwanted side-effects, as increasing distances to enroll constraint individuals’ field of study choices.

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    File URL: http://www-sre.wu.ac.at/ersa/ersaconfs/ersa12/e120821aFinal00753.pdf
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    Paper provided by European Regional Science Association in its series ERSA conference papers with number ersa12p751.

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    Date of creation: Oct 2012
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    Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa12p751
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    1. Magali Beffy & Denis Fougère & Arnaud Maurel, 2012. "Choosing the Field of Study in Postsecondary Education: Do Expected Earnings Matter?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 334-347, February.
    2. Nicolaou, Nicos & Shane, Scott, 2010. "Entrepreneurship and occupational choice: Genetic and environmental influences," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 3-14, October.
    3. Kenneth Train, 2003. "Discrete Choice Methods with Simulation," Online economics textbooks, SUNY-Oswego, Department of Economics, number emetr2, December.
    4. Mark C. Berger, 1988. "Predicted future earnings and choice of college major," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 41(3), pages 418-429, April.
    5. Terry Long, B.Bridget, 2004. "How have college decisions changed over time? An application of the conditional logistic choice model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 271-296.
    6. Jepsen, Christopher & Montgomery, Mark, 2009. "Miles to go before I learn: The effect of travel distance on the mature person's choice of a community college," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 64-73, January.
    7. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2002. "Ability Sorting and the Returns to College Major," Working Papers 02-26, Duke University, Department of Economics.
    8. Arne Risa Hole, 2007. "Fitting mixed logit models by using maximum simulated likelihood," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 7(3), pages 388-401, September.
    9. Gibbons, Stephen & Vignoles, Anna, 2012. "Geography, choice and participation in higher education in England," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 98-113.
    10. Montmarquette, Claude & Cannings, Kathy & Mahseredjian, Sophie, 2002. "How do young people choose college majors?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(6), pages 543-556, December.
    11. Boudarbat, Brahim, 2008. "Field of study choice by community college students in Canada," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 79-93, February.
    12. Carla Sa & Raymond Florax & Piet Rietveld, 2004. "Determinants of the Regional Demand for Higher Education in The Netherlands: A Gravity Model Approach," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 375-392.
    13. Alm, James & Winters, John V., 2009. "Distance and intrastate college student migration," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(6), pages 728-738, December.
    14. Boudarbat, Brahim & Montmarquette, Claude, 2007. "Choice of Fields of Study of Canadian University Graduates: The Role of Gender and their Parents’ Education," IZA Discussion Papers 2552, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    15. Bratti, Massimiliano, 2006. "Social Class and Undergraduate Degree Subject in the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 1979, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Frank Cörvers & Hans Heijke & Daniëlle Bertrand-Cloodt & Jesper van Thor, 2010. "The impact of distance deterrence on the choice of field of study in vocational education in The Netherlands," Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación volume 5, in: María Jesús Mancebón-Torrubia & Domingo P. Ximénez-de-Embún & José María Gómez-Sancho & Gregorio Gim (ed.), Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación 5, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 31, pages 605-624 Asociación de Economía de la Educación.
    17. Farley Ordovensky, J., 1995. "Effects of institutional attributes on enrollment choice: Implications for postsecondary vocational education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 335-350, December.
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