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The Effect of Family Background on Student Effort

Kuehn, Zoe and Landeras, Pedro (2012): The Effect of Family Background on Student Effort.

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Abstract

While students from more advantageous family backgrounds tend to perform better, it is not clear that they exert more effort compared to those from less advantageous family backgrounds. We build a model of students, schools, and employers to study the interaction of family background and effort exerted by the student in the education process. Academic qualifications, which entail an income premium in the labor market, are noisily determined by effort and the student's ability to benefit from education, which in turn depends on her family background and innate talent. In a situation where schools set the optimal passing standard, two factors turn out to be key in determining the relationship between effort and family background: (i) the student's risk aversion and (ii) the degree with which family background alters the student's marginal productivity of effort. We show that when the degree of risk aversion is relatively low (high) compared to the sensitivity of the marginal productivity of the student's effort with respect to her family background, the relation between effort and family background is positive (negative) and students from more advantageous family backgrounds exert more (less) effort. Considering Spanish data and controlling for school fixed effects, we find that an improvement in parental education from not having completed compulsory education to holding a university degree is associated to around 15% more effort by the student(approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes of additional weekly homework). We also find empirical evidence consistent with our assumption that students' marginal productivity of effort varies with family background.

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