Cool to be Smart or Smart to be Cool? Understanding Peer Pressure in Education
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.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23020
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