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A04: Peer effects in school

The goal of the project in the first funding period was to obtain datasets for three to four school systems that would allow implementation of the birth-cohort approach to gender peer effects in school. This approach uses random variation in the share of girls born in a given school catchment area to identify gender peer effects in school. It seems fair to say that we have exceeded the goal for the first funding period. What allowed us to do so was that three of the four datasets we obtained contained the information to follow students from primary school to high school. As a result, we were able to examine how the share of girls in the primary-school birth cohorts affected students’ learning not only in primary school, but also in high school. The empirical results we obtain are remarkably consistent across the school systems of North Carolina, Texas, and Italy. In primary school, there is a positive peer effect of female students in the birth cohort on the test scores of male students that is around twice the peer effect on the test scores of female students. This indicates that boys benefit more from female classmates in primary school than girls. When we link students in high school to their primary school birth cohorts, we find that this difference persists. Male high school students from primary school birth cohorts with an above-average share of female students perform significantly and substantially better in standardized tests than the average male student. The same holds for female high school students but the effect is less than half the effect for male high-school students.

We have added a work package for the second funding period. The original project proposal exploited that almost all school systems enroll children in (pre-)school according to their age at a fixed annual date. Such fixed-annual-date based enrollment (FADE) rules imply that on the first day in (pre-)school, children are up to twelve months apart in age. There have been many studies showing that younger children do worse than older children throughout school and beyond. This inequality across children born on different dates is a serious concern. An exception to the FADE system is the system in the Netherlands. There, children have the right to start in grade one in pre-school just after they turn four years old. The new work package examines the effect of this system for equality of opportunity of children born on different dates.


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