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The unnoticed influence of peers on educational preferences



Some of the most important decisions young people make are choices about education. Yet recent research shows that educational decisions are poorly explained by classical models of human capital investments: adolescents do not always choose what would best optimize their long-term net outcomes. Instead, students have been shown to be influenced by their current group of peers at the time when they make educational decisions. We expand on existing models by showing that students’ stated educational preferences can be influenced by simply priming them with their peers’ preferences. Further, we show that students are unaware of this peer influence in the sense that: (1) they claim that peers have no influence; (2) in a conjoint experiment, they do not select educations based on peers’ assessments; and (3) in a list experiment absent of any social desirability bias, they do not ascribe any influence to their peers either. All in all, the results show that young people are unwittingly influenced by their peers. These results have important implications for public policies aimed at encouraging young people to make more deliberate and informed educational choices.

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Corresponding author

*Correspondence to: Simon Calmar Andersen, Department of Political Science and TrygFondens Centre for Child Research, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. Email:


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