Understanding the Effects of Peers on Educational Outcomes
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The importance of peer effects in education has been largely documented by researchers and has received increasing attention from policymakers. While data improvements have allowed recent research to better quantify the large and persistent effect of childhood peers, the exact mechanisms by which these peer effects arise has gone understudied. Since nearly all public policies are likely to introduce spillover effects, particularly those affecting children, who spend long periods with their peers at a critical time during development, understanding why peer effects arise is crucial for effective policy design.
This panel brings together four papers that examine peer effects in a diverse set of contexts. Each paper leverages unique administrative data and novel identification strategies to bolster understanding on why peer effects occur within educational settings. The first two papers utilize exogenous changes in peer groups to causally estimate how specific peer characteristics influence educational outcomes. For instance, one paper focuses on the influx of climate refugees in communities to identify how exposure to peers recently exposed to trauma (i.e. a catastrophic weather disaster) influence schooling outcomes, while the other paper focuses on the introduction of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in order to identify how increases in peer motivation during high school impacts educational attainment. The final two papers draw on novel methodological approaches that utilize social networks in Brazil and New York City to address common challenges in the estimation of peer effects when exogenous changes in peer groups are absent. They explore network structures and formation to understand how friends influence one another regarding long-term outcomes, or which aspects of peers (i.e., gender, ethnicity, proximity) are most influential for friendship formation.
Together these papers broaden our understanding of when peer effects occur and why, highlighting the unintended consequences of policy changes or unexpected events that change peer groups while providing critical policy guidance on what aspects of peer groups matter most.