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DOUBLE MAJORS: ONE FOR ME, ONE FOR THE PARENTS?

Authors

  • BASIT ZAFAR

    1. Zafar: Federal Reserve Bank of New York-Research, 33 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10045. Phone 212 720 5648, Fax 212 720 6831, E-mail basit.zafar@ny.frb.org
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    • The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System as a whole. All errors that remain are mine.


Abstract

At least a quarter of college students in the United States graduate with more than one undergraduate major. This article investigates how students choose the composition of their majors conditional on pursuing more than one major, that is, whether the majors that they choose are substitutes or complements. As the students use both their preferences and expectations about the realizations of future major-specific outcomes when choosing their college majors, I collect innovative data on subjective expectations from a sample of Northwestern University sophomores. Although there is substantial heterogeneity in beliefs across students, they seem to be aware of differences across majors and have sensible beliefs about the outcomes conditional on major. Students believe that their parents are more likely to approve majors associated with high social status and high returns in the labor market. I incorporate the subjective data in a choice model of double majors that also captures the notion of specialization. I find that enjoying studying the coursework and gaining approval of parents are the most important determinants in the choice of majors. The model estimates reject the hypothesis that students major in one field to pursue their own interests and in another for parents' approval. Instead I find that gaining parents' approval and enjoying studying and working in a field of study are outcomes that are important for both majors in a student's major pair. However, I do find that students act strategically in their choice of majors by choosing majors that differ in their chances of completion and difficulty, and in finding a job upon graduation. (JEL D8, I2, J1)

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