Anchors matter: Eliciting maternal expectations on educational outcomes


Subjective expectation data on education has been increasingly used by social scientists to better understand current investments in human capital. Despite its recognised value by scholars, there is little evidence about how the elicitation of such data might be sensitive to questionnaire design. Using a 2×2 between-subjects experimental design, we analyse how sensitive the elicitation of subjective expectation data on educational outcomes is to anchors. Our study provides causal evidence on whether collecting data on parental education before the elicitation of parental expectations on their children’s educational outcomes anchors the elicitation of the latter; and whether parental expectations on their older offsprings anchors their expectations on their younger children. We find that mothers (main respondents) who have been exposed to the anchored treatments report more pessimistic parental expectations. When splitting our sample into low and high educated mothers, we find that low educated mothers who have been allocated to anchored treatments are more likely to report lower levels of education than those in the non-anchored treatment. Anchored treatments also increase non-response in both high and low educated mothers, however, the effect is larger on the former. When assessing the accuracy of expectations to predict educational outcomes, we observe that anchored expectations have higher predictive power. Our findings inform to what extent the collection of subjective expectations data is subject to anchoring and which type of elicitation (anchored or non-anchored) should be considered according to the main purpose of the elicitation (i.e., item response vs prediction).

Keywords: decision making under uncertainty, expectations