While sociable peers increase your social skills, higher-achieving peers do not improve your academic performance. That is the main conclusion of my job market paper.
As the world bends closer towards automation, social skills take a lead role on individuals' well-being and labor market success. According to Deming (2017), between 1980 and 2012, jobs demanding high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. Similarly, a recent column by the Washington Post highlights the importance of social skills for team productivity and employment opportunities. It describes the results of Google’s Project Aristotle, which concludes that the best teams at Google exhibit high levels of soft skills, and particularly social skills. These include emotional safety, equality, generosity, curiosity towards the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence
While there is extensive research on policies that improve academic learning, little is known about how social skills form. My job market paper addresses this challenge. I present the results of a large-scale field experiment at boarding schools in Peru. The intervention was designed to estimate social and cognitive peer effects. While other studies have exploited random assignment to dormitories and classrooms, I use a novel experimental design to generate large variation in peer skills. Specifically, I assign students to two cross-randomized treatments in the allocation to beds in a dormitory: (1) less or more sociable peers, and (2) lower- or higher-achieving peers. This design surmounts many of the challenges with traditional approaches to the study of peer effects (Manski, 1993; Angrist, 2014; Caeyers and Fafchamps, 2016).