The Structure of Peers: The Impact of Peer Networks on Academic Achievement

  • Matias BerthelonEmail author
  • Eric Bettinger
  • Diana I. Kruger
  • Alejandro Montecinos-Pearce


Peer effects are an important contributing factor in the learning process. Most of the prior literature on peer effects focuses on the characteristics of peers rather than examining the structure of peer networks. We attempt to measure not only the impact of peers but also the structure of the peer network. In particular we are interested in the characteristics of students’ study groups along several dimensions: quality, heterogeneity, size and cohesion. Using pre-college characteristics of students and a random assignment into sections in their first year, we construct instruments of the study group measures to control for endogeneity of the network formation. Our OLS and IV estimates suggest that peer quality improves student performance, and that the breadth and cohesion of students’ network positively affects student outcomes. We also find significant heterogeneity of the results depending on network characteristics. Our findings can be used to assist university administrators or professors to choose criteria for sorting students into study groups.


Study groups Peer effects Academic and social networks Academic performance University College 



Matias Berthelon would like to thank the financial support received from the Learning Center of Teaching Office (Centro Aprendizaje, Direccion de Docencia) at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. Diana Kruger would like to thank funding provided by the Center for Studies of Conflict and Social Cohesion (CONICYT/FONDAP/15130009).


  1. Aitken, N. D. (1982). College student performance, satisfaction and retention: Specification and estimation of a structural model. The Journal of Higher Education, 53(1), 32–50.Google Scholar
  2. Albrecht, T. L., & Hall, B. J. (1991). Facilitating talk about new ideas: The role of personal relationships in organizational innovation. Communications Monographs, 58(3), 273–288.Google Scholar
  3. Ammermueller, A., & Pischke, J.-S. (2006). Peer effects in European primary schools: Evidence from PIRLS. IZA Discussion Paper No. 2077.Google Scholar
  4. Battu, H., Belfield, C. R., & Sloane, P. J. (2003). Human capital spillovers within the workplace: Evidence for Great Britain. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 65(5), 575–594.Google Scholar
  5. Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of educational Research, 55(4), 485–540.Google Scholar
  6. Betts, J. R., & Morel, D. (1999). The determinants of undergraduate grade point average: The relative importance of family background, high school resources, and peer group effects. The Journal of Human Resources, 34(2), 268–293.Google Scholar
  7. Bramoullé, Y., Djebbari, H., & Fortin, B. (2009). Identification of peer effects through social networks. Journal of Econometrics, 150(1), 41–55.Google Scholar
  8. Brau, J. C., Brau, R. I., Owen, S. R., & Swenson, M. J. (2016). The determinants of student performance in a university marketing class. Business Education Innovation Journal, 8(2), 21–31.Google Scholar
  9. Calvó-Armengol, A., Patacchini, E., & Zenou, Y. (2009). Peer effects and social networks in education. The Review of Economic Studies, 76(4), 1239–1267.Google Scholar
  10. Carrell, S., Fullerton, R. L., & West, J. (2009). Does your cohort matter? Measuring peer effects in college achievement. Journal of Labor Economics, 27(3), 439–464.Google Scholar
  11. Carrell, S. E., Sacerdote, B. I., & West, J. E. (2013). From natural variation to optimal policy? The importance of endogenous peer group formation. Econometrica, 81(3), 855–882.Google Scholar
  12. Cheng, W. Y., Lam, S. F., & Chan, C. Y. (2008). When high achievers and low achievers work in the same group: The roles of group heterogeneity and processes in project-based learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78(2), 205–221.Google Scholar
  13. De Giorgi, G., Pellizzari, M., & Redaelli, S. (2010). Identification of Social Interactions through partially Overlapping Peer Groups. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(2), 241–275.Google Scholar
  14. Dey, E. (1997). Undergraduate political attitudes: Peer influence in changing social contexts. The Journal of Higher Education, 68(4), 398–413.Google Scholar
  15. Duflo, E., Dupas, P., & Kremer, M. (2011). Peer effects, teacher incentives, and the impact of tracking: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in Kenya. The American Economic Review, 101(5), 1739–1774.Google Scholar
  16. Edmondson, A. C. (2002). The local and variegated nature of learning in organizations: A group-level perspective. Organization Science, 13(2), 128–146.Google Scholar
  17. Epple, D., & Romano, R. (2011). Peer effects in education: A survey of the theory and evidence. In J. Benhabib, A. Bisin, & M. O. Jackson (Eds.), Handbook of social economics 1.11 (pp. 1053–1163). Utrech: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  18. Foster, G. (2006). It’s not your peers, and it’s not your friends: Some progress toward understanding the educational peer effect mechanism. Journal of Public Economics, 90(8), 1455–1475.Google Scholar
  19. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360–1380.Google Scholar
  20. Gurin, P., Dey, E., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard educational review, 72(3), 330–367.Google Scholar
  21. Hahn, Y., Islam, A., Patacchini, E., & Zenou, Y. (2015). Network Structure and Education Outcomes: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Bangladesh. IZA Discussion Paper No. 8872, February.Google Scholar
  22. Hamilton, B. H., Nickerson, J. A., & Owan, H. (2012). Diversity and productivity in production teams. In Advances in the economic analysis of participatory and labor-managed firms (pp. 99–138). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  23. Jackson, M. (2008). Social and economic networks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4), 85–108.Google Scholar
  25. Jain, T., & Kapoor, M. (2015). The impact of study groups and roommates on academic performance. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 97(1), 44–54. Scholar
  26. Kremer, M., & Levy, D. (2008). Peer effects and alcohol use among college students. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3), 189–189.Google Scholar
  27. Lin, X. (2010). Identifying peer effects in student academic achievement by spatial autoregressive models with group unobservables. Journal of Labor Economics, 28(4), 825–860.Google Scholar
  28. Lin, X. (2015). Utilizing spatial autoregressive models to identify peer effects among adolescents. Empirical Economics, 49(3), 929–960.Google Scholar
  29. Lin, N., Cook, K., & Burt, R. (2001). Social capital theory and research. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Lyle, D. S. (2007). Estimating and interpreting peer and role model effects from randomly signed social groups at west point. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 89(2), 1–20.Google Scholar
  31. Lyle, D. S. (2009). The effects of peer group heterogeneity on the production of human capital at west point. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4), 69–84.Google Scholar
  32. Manski, C. F. (1993). Identification of endogenous social effects: The reflection problem. The Review of Economic Studies, 60(3), 531–542.Google Scholar
  33. Marmaros, D., & Sacerdote, B. I. (2006). How do friendships form? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(1), 79–119.Google Scholar
  34. Mas, A., & Moretti, E. (2009). Peers at work. The American Economic Review, 99(1), 112–145.Google Scholar
  35. McEwan, P. J. (2003). Peer effects on student achievement: Evidence from Chile. Economics of Education Review, 22(2), 131–141.Google Scholar
  36. Moody, J., & White, D. R. (2003). Structural cohesion and embeddedness: A hierarchical concept of social groups. American Sociological Review, 68(1), 103–127.Google Scholar
  37. Mora, T., & Escardibul, J. O. (2008). Schooling effects on undergraduate performance: Evidence from the University of Barcelona. Higher Education, 56(5), 519–532.Google Scholar
  38. Murray, A. I. (1989). Top management group heterogeneity and firm performance. Strategic Management Journal, Special Issue, 10, 125–141. Scholar
  39. Poldin, O., Valeeva, D., & Yudkevich, M. (2016). Which peers matter: How social ties affect peer-group effects. Research in Higher Education, 57(4), 448–468. Scholar
  40. Sacerdote, B. I. (2001). Peer effects with random assignment: Results for Dartmouth roommates. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116(2), 681–704.Google Scholar
  41. Sacerdote, B. I. (2011). Peer effects in education: How might they work, how big they are and how much do we know thus far. In E. A. Hanushek, S. Machin, & L. Woesmann (Eds.), Handbook of social economics 3.3 (pp. 249–277). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  42. Stinebrickner, R., & Stinebrickner, T. (2006). What can be learned about peer effects using college roommates? Evidence from new survey data and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Journal of Public Economics, 90(8–9), 1435–1454.Google Scholar
  43. Thompson, B. M., Haidet, P., Borges, N. J., Carchedi, L. R., et al. (2015). Team cohesiveness, team size and team performance in team-based learning teams. Medical Education, 49, 379–385. Scholar
  44. Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of educational research, 45(1), 89–125.Google Scholar
  45. Treen, E., Atanasova, C., Pitt, L., & Johnson, M. (2016). Evidence from a large sample on the effects of group size and decision-making time on performance in a marketing simulation game. Journal of Marketing Education, 38(2), 130–137. Scholar
  46. Whitmore, D. (2005). Resource and peer impacts on girls’ academic achievement: Evidence from a randomized experiment. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, 95(2), 199–203.Google Scholar
  47. Williams, E. A., Duray, R., & Reddy, V. (2006). Teamwork orientation, group cohesiveness, and student learning: A study of the use of teams in online distance education. Journal of Management Education, 30(4), 592–616. Scholar
  48. Zimmerman, D. J. (2003). Peer effects in academic outcomes: Evidence from a natural experiment. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(1), 9–23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Business SchoolUniversidad Adolfo IbáñezViña del MarChile
  2. 2.Graduate School of EducationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations