First, I love these BPEA videos. Second, this one by Elizabeth Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, was quite interesting. Justin Wolfers notes that in two states that introduced universal Pre-K, poor families signed up (so their kids wouldn’t have gone otherwise) and rich families switched to the public option from the private option (so their kids would have gone to a different Pre-K otherwise). They highlight how this is a transfer to high income families as they no longer have to pay for Pre-K, but this social experiment reminded me of something more positive – the kids of rich and poor families will now be in the same classrooms.
Gautam Rao, my friend and fellow graduate student, has done some really interesting work on the social effects of similar experiments in India.
I explore effects on distributional preferences, prosocial behavior, social interaction and discrimination, learning and classroom behavior. I find that greater exposure to peers from relatively poor households increases generosity towards both poor and non-poor recipients. I find evidence that this effect is not explained entirely by changes in beliefs about others, and instead is driven by changes in preferences themselves. Consistent with this finding, I find substantial positive effects on a field measure of prosocial behavior – volunteering for a charitable organization. I also find that exposure to poor classmates in school increases a student’s willingness to socially interact with new poor people, and reduces taste-based discrimination against the poor exhibited in a team selection field experiment. Finally, I find no significant effects on test scores in English, Hindi or Math, despite increases in certain measures of classroom indiscipline.