The economics of school choice and sorting

  • Ellen Greaves

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School quality is an important determinant of students’ long-term outcomes. Assignment to schools is therefore an important lever to address inequality in society. This thesis studies two aspects of the design of school choice that influence this assignment. First, I study parents’ preferences for school quality. I find that parents in England often make active school choices and bypass the nearest school if it has low quality. Using a triple differences design, I estimate the causal effect of school quality information on parental school choice. I find that positive information increases the likelihood parents choose a school, regardless of their socio-economic status. In addition, positive information increases the number of applications schools receive regardless of their place in the local hierarchy. Consequently, school choice increases incentives to improve standards for all schools. I find that incentives are dampened in dense markets, however. Second, I study the interaction between school and residential choices. Residential choices may be influenced by local school quality if schools rank applicants by geographical proximity. Using a difference-in-differences design, I study the causal effect of geographical admissions on residential choices. In line with existing literature, I find that geographical admissions lead to relocations. My results suggest that it is a very local effect, however, driven by a minority of high social class parents trying to access a minority of high performing schools. Studying one such case in depth, I develop a structural model of household decisions in a dynamic setting. This model reveals spillovers from geographical admissions to households without children. In contrast to existing literature, it shows that price premia around ‘good’ schools are driven by relocation decisions of households with and without children. Lastly, the model allows me to study the effect of an alternative policy on school and neighbourhood integration.
Date of Award21 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSimon M Burgess (Supervisor) & Helene Turon (Supervisor)


  • School choice
  • Neighbourhood sorting
  • Segregation

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