Distinguishing Spurious and Real Peer Effects: Evidence from Artificial Societies, Small-Group Experiments, and Real Schoolyards
19 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2008
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.
Keywords: Norms, social influence, peer effects
JEL Classification: C91, D71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation