NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Cool to be Smart or Smart to be Cool? Understanding Peer Pressure in Education

Leonardo Bursztyn, Georgy Egorov, Robert Jensen

NBER Working Paper No. 23020
Issued in January 2017
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   POL

Concerns about social image may negatively affect schooling behavior. We identify two potentially important peer cultures: one that stigmatizes effort (thus, where it is “smart to be cool”) and one that rewards ability (where it is “cool to be smart”). We build a model showing that either may lower the takeup of educational activities when takeup and performance are potentially observable to peers. We design a field experiment allowing us to test whether students are influenced by these concerns at all, and then which they are more influenced by. We examine high schools in two settings: a low-income, high minority share area and a higher-income, lower minority share area. In both settings, peer pressure reduces takeup of an SAT prep package. We show that this is consistent with a greater concern for hiding effort in the lower-income school, and a greater concern with hiding low ability in the higher-income schools.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23020

 
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