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When the Great Equalizer Shuts Down: Schools, Peers, and Parents in Pandemic Times (WP-20-56)

Francesco Agostinelli, Matthias Doepke, Giuseppe Sorrenti, and Fabrizio Zilibotti

What are the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s education? Online education is an imperfect substitute for in-person learning, particularly for children from low-income families. Peer effects also change: Schools allow children from different socio-economic backgrounds to mix together, and this effect is lost when schools are closed. Another factor is the response of parents, some of whom compensate for the changed environment through their own efforts, while others are unable to do so. The researchers examine the interaction of these factors with the aid of a structural model of skill formation. They find that school closures have a large and persistent effect on educational outcomes that is highly unequal. High school students from poor neighborhoods suffer a learning loss of 0.4 standard deviations, whereas children from rich neighborhoods remain unscathed. The channels operating through schools, peers, and parents all contribute to growing educational inequality during the pandemic.

Francesco Agostinelli, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Pennsylvania

Matthias Doepke, Professor of Economics and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Giuseppe Sorrenti, Assistant Professor in Microeconomics, University of Amsterdam

Fabrizio Zilibotti, Tuntex Professor of International and Development Economics, Yale University

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