Does the Girl Next Door Affect Your Cognitive Outcomes?

Rigissa Megalokonomou, The University of Queensland
Sofoklis Goulas, Stanford University

Peer effects are potentially important for optimally organising schools and neighbourhoods. In this paper, we examine how the gender of classmates and neighbours affect subsequent academic performance, the choice of academic tracks, university related outcomes, and the choice of university study. This is the first paper that: a) examines gender peer effects in school on longer term outcomes related to university and 2) examines gender peer effects using spatial variation and cluster analysis to construct the neighbourhoods. We employ two strategies. First we exploit within-school and -neighbourhood idiosyncratic variation in the proportion of females across consecutive cohorts in the twelfth grade. Using data for the universe of students in pubic schools in Greece between 2004 and 2009, we find that a higher share of females in school or neighbourhood improves females'' and males'' subsequent academic performance, increases the university admission rate for both genders, makes both genders more likely to enrol in university compared to education institutes and affects the choice of university study. In particular, we find that females are more likely to enrol in STEM related university departments when they have more females in school or neighbourhood. Next, we exploit the random assignment of students to classes within schools in the eleventh grade. To do this we use new data that we collected from 106 high schools. We control for potentially confounding unobserved characteristics of schools, classes and students that could be related to the proportion of females, and we exploit variation in the proportion of females across classes within the same school in a given year to obtain identification. We find that an 1% increase in eleventh grade female classmates improves girls subsequent academic performance in mathematics by 0.1 s.d and increases their likelihood to enrol in STEM related university departments by 1%.

Peer effects are potentially important for optimally organising schools and neighbourhoods. In this paper, we examine how the gender of classmates and neighbours affect subsequent academic performance, the choice of academic tracks, university related outcomes, and the choice of university study. Given that students are assigned to schools based on proximity to school, we identify and define as neighbours all same-cohort peers who attend any other school within a mile from ones school. This is the first paper that: a) examines gender peer effects on longer term outcomes related to actual university admission and 2) examines gender peer effects using spatial variation and cluster analysis to construct the neighbourhoods. We employ two strategies. First we exploit within-school and-neighbourhood idiosyncratic variation in the proportion of females across consecutive cohorts in the twelfth grade. Using new data for the universe of students in pubic schools in Greece between 2004 and 2009, we find that a higher share of females in school or neighbourhood improves females'' and males'' subsequent academic performance, increases the university admission rate for both genders, makes both genders more likely to enrol in university compared to education institutes or vocational education and affects the choice of university study. In particular, we find that females are more likely to enrol in STEM university departments when they have more females in school or neighbourhood. We implement falsification tests where we replace the treatment variable with the proportion of females in the previous or the subsequent cohort in the school or neighbourhood and we find no effect on the estimated outcome variables. Next, we exploit the random assignment of students to classes within a school in the eleventh grade. To do this we use new data that we collected from 106 high schools. We control for potentially confounding unobserved characteristics of schools, classes and students that could be related to the proportion of females, and we exploit variation in the proportion of females across classes within the same school in a given year to obtain identification. Using unique hand-collected data, we find that an 1% increase in eleventh grade female classmates improves girls subsequent academic performance in mathematics by 0.1 of a s.d. and increases their likelihood to enrol in STEM related university departments by 1% a year later. We implement falsification tests where we replace the treatment variable with the average proportion of girls in all other same-grade classes in school. We find no effect which suggests that the estimated effects are not biased from omitted variable confounders. Our results are relevant to the debate about the benefits of single-sex schools Vs coeducational schooling and the concern about the gender imbalances in coeducational schools. Increasing interactions between girls and boys in the classroom may be an effective and low-cost way to change the gender composition across university fields, especially in fields like mathematics and engineering where there are traditionally considerable gender participation differences. We also use proxies for the level of violence and disruption in the class, and our finding suggest that female heavy classes provide a better learning environment.

Presented in Session 1150: Economics, Human Capital, and Labour Markets