Peer Pressure and Educational Investments

Despite the long-term benefits of education, many young people do not make the educational investments required to succeed in school, such as attending class or doing homework. One possible explanation is that young people face peer pressure that discourages them from investing in education for fear of being bullied, being teased, or not fitting in.

To test whether students’ educational investments are affected by peer pressure, J-PAL affiliates Leonardo Bursztyn (Anderson School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles) and Robert Jensen (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) offered high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District the opportunity to sign up for free access to an online SAT preparatory course. Researchers visited each school for two periods during the school day and visited both honors classes and non-honors classes. In both the honors and non-honors classes, students were randomly selected to receive either a sign-up sheet that said their decision would be public or a sign-up sheet that said their decision would be kept private.

In non-honors classes, sign-up rates were lower for students who were told that their decision would be public. In honors classes, sign-up rates were not affected. For students taking a combination of non-honors and honors classes, the possibility of having their enrollment in the SAT prep course shared publicly reduced sign-up rates during non-honors classes and increased sign-up rates during honors classes.

These results provide evidence that peer pressure does influence young people’s educational investments. Whether peer pressure leads to higher or lower levels of educational investment depends on the attitudes among a young person’s peers.

Read the full evaluation summary, with links to the research paper and news items, on the J-PAL North America website.

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