How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?

Leonardo Bursztyn, Robert Jensen

NBER Working Paper No. 20714
Issued in November 2014
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS   PE

When effort is observable to peers, students may act to avoid social penalties by conforming to prevailing norms. To test for such behavior, we conducted an experiment in which 11th grade students were offered complimentary access to an online SAT preparatory course. Signup sheets differed randomly across students (within classrooms) only in the extent to which they emphasized that the decision to enroll would be kept private from classmates. In non-honors classes, the signup rate was 11 percentage points lower when decisions to enroll were public rather than private. Sign up in honors classes was unaffected. To further isolate the role of peer pressure we examine students taking the same number of honors classes. The timing of our visits to each school will find some of these students in one of their honors classes and others in one of their non-honors classes; which they happen to be sitting in when we arrive to conduct our experiment should be (and, empirically, is) uncorrelated with student characteristics. When offered the course in a non-honors class, these students were 25 percentage points less likely to sign up if the decision was public rather than private. But if they were offered the course in one of their honors classes, they were 25 percentage points more likely to sign up when the decision was public. Thus, students are highly responsive to who their peers are and what the prevailing norm is when they make decisions.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Supplementary materials for this paper:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20714

Published: Leonardo Bursztyn & Robert Jensen, 2015. "How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 130(3), pages 1329-1367.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Lee, Turner, Woo, and Kim w20722 All or Nothing? The Impact of School and Classroom Gender Composition on Effort and Academic Achievement
Guryan, Kim, and Quinn w20689 Does Reading During the Summer Build Reading Skills? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in 463 Classrooms
Barberis and Thaler w9222 A Survey of Behavioral Finance
Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff w17699 The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us