Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 697–739 | Cite as

The younger, the better? Age-related differences in academic performance at university

  • Michele Pellizzari
  • Francesco C. Billari
Original Paper


In this paper, we investigate differences in academic performance among students of different ages within the same cohorts using a unique database of students at Bocconi University. Our data allow to control for potential selection effects as well as for differences in cognitive ability, as measured by an attitudinal entry test. Contrary to most of the existing evidence for younger pupils, we document that at the undergraduate level, youngest students perform better compared with their oldest peers. This finding is only partly explained by differences in cognitive ability and rather seems to be associated with differences in social activities.


Age effects Cognitive ability Academic performance 

JEL Classification

J1 I23 I24 



We would like to thank the Bocconi University for financial support through its “Basic Research Fund” and also for granting access to its administrative archives for this project. In particular, the following persons provided invaluable and generous help: Giacomo Carrai, Mariele Chirulli, Mariapia Chisari, Alessandro Ciarlo, Enrica Greggio, Gabriella Maggioni, Erika Palazzo, Giovanni Pavese, Cherubino Profeta, Alessandra Startari, and Mariangela Vago. We are also indebted to Elsa Artadi, Piero Cipollone, Christian Dustmann, Giacomo De Giorgi, and Matt Harding for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. We would also like to thank seminar participants at the University of Lausanne, the University of Padua, and the C6 Csef-Igier Symposium. Michela Braga provided excellent research assistance. Data on the ISAS survey have been collected in a project of the University of Padua and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, coordinated by Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna, whose willingness to share their data with us is gratefully acknowledged. Two anonymous referees provided extremely useful comments.

Supplementary material

148_2011_379_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (72 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele Pellizzari
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Francesco C. Billari
    • 2
    • 4
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsBocconi UniversityMilanItaly
  2. 2.IGIERMilanItaly
  3. 3.IZABonnGermany
  4. 4.“Carlo F. Dondena” Centre for Research on Social DynamicsMilanItaly
  5. 5.Fondazione Rodolfo DebenedettiMilanItaly
  6. 6.Department of Policy Analysis and Public ManagementBocconi UniversityMilanItaly

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