Feasible Peer Effects: Experimental Evidence for Deskmate Effects on Educational Achievement and Inequality by Tamás Keller & Felix Elwert (2023)

Sociological Science


Schools routinely employ seating charts to influence educational outcomes. Dependable evidence for the causal effects of seating charts on students’ achievement levels and inequality, however, is scarce. We executed a large pre-registered field experiment to estimate causal peer effects on students’ test scores and grades by randomizing the seating charts of 195 classrooms (N=3,365 students). We found that neither sitting next to a deskmate with higher prior achievement nor sitting next to a female deskmate affected learning outcomes on average. However, we also found that sitting next to the highest-achieving deskmates improved the educational outcomes of the lowest-achieving students; and sitting next to the lowest-achieving deskmates lowered the educational outcomes of the highest-achieving students. Therefore, compared to random seating charts, achievement-discordant seating charts would decrease inequality; whereas achievement-concordant seating charts would increase inequality. We discuss policy implications.