A stitch in time saves nine: procrastination and academic success

cornell-university-82344_1920Every student knows how hard it can be to pull yourself together and study. From a short-run perspective, being lazy makes sense: studying is an investment in the distant future, while lying in the sun provides immediate utility. So procrastination is a natural behavior – but apparently quite detrimental.

In a new IZA discussion paper, Maria De Paolo and Vincenzo Scoppa show that procrastination and academic success are highly negatively correlated. The authors analyze how long it took Italian undergraduates to enroll in their studies after their admission. All admitted students received their letter of acceptance on the same day and had one week to fill out some forms and pay a small tuition fee.

The researchers show that each day of waiting is connected to five credit points less in the first two years of the degree. Heavy procrastinators, defined as students who needed five or more days to complete their enrollment, achieved even 13 credits less than the average student. There is also a strong negative relation between the high-school grade and the propensity to procrastinate. The authors checked that these effects are not driven by ability, motivation or family background.

Because of their performance in a placement test, some students below a certain threshold were assigned to a special remedial program. This program consists of 160 hours of extra training in math and language skills. The students with the strongest tendency to procrastinate gained most from this program. According to the authors, this training is highly recommendable as it makes these students aware that they have to work harder to overcome their educational gaps.

Read abstract or download discussion paper (PDF).

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