Peer effects, neighbourhood effects and social housing: impact on students' achievement in England

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Centre for Economic Performance

Abstract

My proposal builds upon three distinct projects which I have undertaken during the course of my PhD. These three pieces of research sit at the crossroads between Labour, Urban and Education Economics. Their underlying and unifying theme is the generation and perpetuation of social inequalities and the concept of 'equality of chances', which lies at the heart of our understanding of modern democratic society. As a result, all of my work is directly policy relevant.

The first paper looks at the size, significance and heterogeneity of ability peer effects in secondary schools in England. The paper makes an important methodological contribution and shows that it is the exceptionally low- and high-achievers, who account for most or all of the effect of average peer quality on the educational outcomes of other pupils, and this effect varies across genders. This finding adds substantially to the existing literature and suggests that policy should focus attention away from sorting into schools based on average abilities, and towards intra-school mixing of pupils. The paper has now been offered a Revise and Resubmit to the Journal of Labor Economics.

My second paper estimates the effect of living in a deprived high density social housing neighbourhood on the educational attainment of teenagers in England. I propose a new estimation strategy exploiting the timing of moving into these neighbourhoods. Using this approach, my preliminary results suggest that there is no evidence of negative effects, which is counter-intuitive and has potentially wide-ranging implications for social housing policy. A previous draft of this paper won the best graduate paper award at the joint 2009 North American Regional Science and Urban Economics Association conference in San Francisco.

The third paper investigates the effect of neighbours' characteristics and prior achievements on teenagers' educational and behavioural outcomes. Using an innovative methodology, the project relies on mover-induced variation in neighbourhood quality, whilst controlling for general gentrification trends. Preliminarily results provide little evidence that neighbours' characteristics significantly affect pupil test score progression, and only exert a small effect on pupil behavioural outcomes, such as general attitudes towards schooling, substance use and anti-social behaviour. This would imply focussing policy towards people rather than places. A draft has been accepted to the SOLE conference.

Right from the start of the fellowship, I plan to present my work at seminars, discuss my findings with my contacts at the Department for Communities and Local Government, send drafts to researchers working on related topics and submit to major conferences. Consequently, I plan to submit revised versions to further conferences and -using my affiliation- publish my second paper as IZA Discussion Paper in spring 2012.

With new insights from my participation in Charles Manski's Cemmap Masterclass on Identification of Social Interactions at IFS/UCL, Professor Machin's expertise and using the feedback from the presentations, I intend to augment my second paper with a structural model. In close coordination with Professor Machin we would then decide if I use this as my "job market paper", or otherwise use my third paper and submit to the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

The second year of the fellowship would first evolve around the academic job market. In the final months, I plan to apply for grants to create a nationwide dataset on social housing for future research (data is currently only held locally). I will also disseminate my findings at conferences and outside academia, continuing to fully exploiting CEP media relations and Professor Machin's contacts in order to reach beneficiaries in the public domain, as well.

Overall, this would greatly increase the quailty, impact and publication potential of my work and set a solid foundation for my future academic career.

Publications

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