Peer effects in higher education

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Many empirical studies of peer effects document strong positive correlations between an individual’s outcome and those of their peers. We analyze peer effects focusing on a context where first year students from a Spanish University are randomly organized in pairs within their classroom in order to collaborate on joint activities throughout the semester. We analyze how the composition of the pair according to abilities determines academic achievements in that semester, where abilities are approximated by students’ previous grades. We find that on average peer effects exist for the activities outcomes (realized during the semester), but not for the final exam grades. Nevertheless,when controlling for gender, we obtain «negative peer effects» for the final exam outcome (i.e., the higher the ability of the partner, the lower one’s grade in such exam) but only for men. One possible interpretation for this is that men are discouraged to put effort when they are paired with highly accomplished partners, as this becomes their reference point which is difficult to surpass.

Keywords: education, gender, peer effects