July 2020

IZA DP No. 13561: Caught in the Cycle: Economic Conditions at Enrollment and Labor Market Outcomes of College Graduates

Alena Bicakova, Matias Cortes, Jacopo Mazza

We find robust evidence that cohorts of male graduates who start college during worse economic times earn higher average wages than those who start during better times. This gap is not explained by differences in selection into employment, in economic conditions at the time of college graduation, or in field of study choices. Graduates who enroll in bad times are not more positively selected based on their high-school outcomes, but they achieve higher college grades, sort into higher-paying occupations, and earn higher wages conditional on their grades. We find similar but less robust patterns for female graduates. Our results suggest that individuals who enroll during economic downturns exert more effort during their studies.