Information Barriers, Social Inequality, and Plans for Higher Education

Evidence from a Field Experiment
European Sociological Review, Carlo Barone et al.
  • Great Hall, University of Rome (Phillip Capper CC BY 2.0)Great Hall, University of Rome (Phillip Capper CC BY 2.0)

Information Barriers, Social Inequality, and Plans for Higher Education:
Evidence from a Field Experiment

Carlo Barone (OSC, LIEPP), Antonio Schizzerotto (University of Trento), Giovanni Abbiati (FBK-IRVAPP), Gianluca Argentin (Catholic Universoty of Milan)

European Sociological Review 33 (1): 84-96

Carlo Barone (OSC-LIEPP)This article assesses the role of information barriers for patterns of educational participation and related social inequalities in plans for Higher Education. Using longitudinal data, we investigate student expectations about the profitability of Higher Education, their evolution over time and their correlation with study plans among Italian high school seniors.

We find that student believes are highly inaccurate, systematically biased and poorly updated.

Then, we present estimates of the causal effect of information barriers on educational plans based on a large-scale clustered randomized experiment.

ESR vol. 33 n° 1We designed a counseling intervention to correct student misperceptions of the profitability of Higher Education and assessed whether treated students’ plans changed differentially relative to a control group.
We ran a clustered randomized controlled trial, involving a random sample of 62 high schools from all upper-secondary streams located in four Italian provinces, covering different areas of the country to enhance the external validity of our results.

The intervention was quite effective in correcting student misperceptions, but this did not translate into increased intentions to enroll in university education. However, the treatment affected preferences between fields of study, between short and long university paths, and between university and vocationally oriented programs.

Hence, information barriers affect substantially the internal differentiation of Higher Education and the related horizontal inequalities by gender and family background.