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Distinguishing Spurious and Real Peer Effects: Evidence from Artificial Societies, Small-Group Experiments, and Real Schoolyards


Robert MacCoun


Stanford Law School

Philip J. Cook


Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Clara Muschkin


Duke University - Center for Child and Family Policy

Jacob L. Vigdor


Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


Review of Law & Economics, Forthcoming
UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1118436

Abstract:     
In a variety of important domains, there is considerable correlational evidence suggestive of what are variously referred to as social norm effects, contagion effects, information cascades, or peer effects. It is difficult to statistically identify whether such effects are causal, and there are various non-causal mechanisms that can produce such apparent norm effects. Lab experiments demonstrate that real peer effects occur, but also that apparent cascade or peer effects can be spurious. A curious feature of American local school configuration policy provides an opportunity to identify true peer influences among adolescents. Some school districts send 6th graders to middle school (e.g., 6th-8th grade "junior high"); others retain 6th graders for one additional year in K-6 elementary schools. Using administrative data on public school students in North Carolina, we have found that sixth grade students attending middle schools are much more likely to be cited for discipline problems than those attending elementary school, and the effects appear to persist at least through ninth grade. A plausible explanation is that these effects occur because sixth graders in middle schools are suddenly exposed to two cohorts of older, more delinquent peers.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 19

Keywords: Norms, social influence, peer effects

JEL Classification: C91, D71

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Date posted: April 10, 2008  

Suggested Citation

MacCoun, Robert and Cook, Philip J. and Muschkin, Clara and Vigdor, Jacob L., Distinguishing Spurious and Real Peer Effects: Evidence from Artificial Societies, Small-Group Experiments, and Real Schoolyards. ; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1118436. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1118436

Contact Information

Robert MacCoun (Contact Author)
Stanford Law School ( email )
559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Philip J. Cook
Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )
201 Science Drive
Box 90312
Durham, NC 27708-0239
United States
919-613-7360 (Phone)
919-681-8288 (Fax)
Duke University - Department of Economics
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Clara Muschkin
Duke University - Center for Child and Family Policy ( email )
100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States
Jacob L. Vigdor
Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )
201 Science Drive
Box 90312
Durham, NC 27708-0239
United States
919-613-7354 (Phone)
Duke University - Department of Economics
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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