Priorities in school choice: The case of the Boston mechanism in Barcelona

Caterina Calsamiglia, Maia Guell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The Boston mechanism is a school allocation procedure that is widely used around the world and has been criticized for its incentive problems. In order to resolve overdemands for a given school, most often priority is given to families living in the neighborhood of the school. Using a very rich data set on school applications for the case of the Boston mechanism in Barcelona, we exploit an unexpected change in the definition of neighborhood. This change allows us to identify that a large fraction of families systematically ranks first high priority schools, neighborhood schools in this case. Additional data on school enrollment decisions and census data shows that some seemingly unsophisticated parents are high income families that can rank hard-to-get schools because they can afford the outside option of a private school in case they do not get in. This sheds light on important inequalities beyond parents' lack of sophistication found in the literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-36
JournalJournal of Public Economics
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • school choice
  • enrollment
  • Boston mechanism
  • priorities
  • private schools


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