The Role of Expectations in Adolescent Schooling Choices: Do Youths Respond to Economic Incentives?

Wilson, Kathryn, Barbara Wolfe, and Robert Haveman
Working paper no. 2004-21


We address the role of youths’ own choice-conditioned expectations in understanding their schooling choices by constructing a choice (or “switching”) model. We emphasize the effect of individual student perceptions regarding the “returns” associated with graduating from high school versus dropping out, while controlling for an extensive set of family and community factors. We find that youths’ expected income returns to graduating from high school are influential in their schooling choices, even when an extensive set of background, economic, family, and neighborhood variables, designed to capture the effects of parental and governmental decisions, is introduced into the analysis.