Parents have strong preferences for sending their children to the best schools available. There seems to be a general perception that graduating from a elite school equals winning a lottery in life chances. Empirical evidence though tells a different story, suggesting at best marginal effects on test scores and college outcomes. However, the impact on outcomes later in life is largely unexplored.
In a new IZA Discussion Paper Damon Clark and Emilia Del Bono analyze the effect of elite school attendance on tertiary education, income and fertility. In Aberdeen, Scotland, students in the 1960s were sorted into elite/non-elite schools strictly by a threshold in standardized test scores, giving no room for potential parental influence on the school choice. Comparing students just below and above this threshold provides a natural experiment to assess the effect of attending the elite school.
The authors find strong effects of elite school attendance on completed education for both men and women. However, the results suggest positive income effects of at least eight percent and negative effects on fertility only for women, whereas male later-life outcomes seem to be unaffected.
The researchers conclude that placing girls in an elite school environment with other high-achieving girls may change their perceptions of women’s role in society and their decisions regarding career, marriage and family. These results highlight the important effects of tracking school systems in the long run, a so far under-analyzed but highly important topic.