Uncovering Peer Effects in Social and Academic Skills

Discussion Paper

Román Andrés Zárate

October 2022

This paper explores the impact of adolescent peers who are central in their social network on the formation of social skills and the academic performance of fellow students. Studying a large-scale field experiment at selective public boarding schools in Peru, the research varies the type of peer defined by the median of social centrality and academic achievement. Students are assigned to (i) more socially central versus less socially central peers and (ii) higher-achieving versus lower-achieving peers. Peer effects are more pronounced for social skills than academic performance, and both vary by gender. While socially central peers lead boys to better social skills and improve their later-life outcomes, there are no effects for girls. Meanwhile, higher-achieving peers do not affect boys’ academic performance but decrease girls’ test scores. Gender differences in how beliefs about one’s abilities respond to peer interactions explain both findings, revealing the importance of self-confidence in peer allocation policies.