Cleaning the slate? School choice and educational outcomes in Spain


Using data from a nation-wide survey on Spanish workers, this paper examines two issues: the determinants of school choice (distinguishing between public and private schools) and the influence of school type on the individual’s educational attainment. For that, bivariate probit models are estimated. The analysis is carried out separately by gender and birth cohort. We find that individuals who have attended a private school come from households with higher socio-cultural level and that having attended a private school does not raise the probability of reaching a higher degree, once potential endogeneity of school choice and educational outcomes are taken into account. However, the latter result depends on the instrumental variable used for observed school type in models of demand for higher education.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    The main laws in force during the Francoist period regarding the educational system were the following: the 1938 law on the reform of the secondary education, the 1943 law on university and the 1945 law on primary education. For a detailed analysis of the educational system during that period, see de Puelles Benítez (1986).

  2. 2.

    Figures come from the second quarters of the Spanish Labour Force Survey (EPA). We consider that individuals demanded for higher education if either they had a university degree or they were studying at the university (in the 4 weeks previous to the interview).

  3. 3.

    A similar problem exists if private schools are able to select potential students through personal interviews or to expel students on either academic or disciplinary grounds.

  4. 4.

    Ceuta and Melilla (the Spanish cities in North-Africa) are excluded from the sample frame.

  5. 5.

    More information on the survey can be found in the Ministry of Labour and Immigration web site:

  6. 6.

    The survey does not allow one to properly identify purely private schools and private schools partially funded with public money (educación privada concertada). This is the reason why we will refer here to public schools and the rest (private).

  7. 7.

    Moreover, either being an only child or having brothers or sisters but being the oldest one, having a Spanish father, and not living with the parents at the age of 16 are factors correlated with a higher probability of having attended a private school (we must note that studying in a private school may be associated with being sent to a boarding school).

  8. 8.

    Since school type is a dummy, the marginal effect is the sample average of the difference in the predicted probabilities when the dummy variable is set to one or zero. The predicted probability for public school students (dummy = 0) is calculated holding other personal and family characteristics constant and correcting the potential endogeneity of the school choice variable.

  9. 9.

    Identical result is found for all birth cohorts.


  1. Albert, C. (2000). Higher education demand in Spain: The influence of labour market signal and family background. Higher Education, 40(2), 147–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Altonji, J. G., & Dunn, T. A. (1997). Using siblings to estimate the effect of school quality on wages. Review of Economics and Statistics, 78(4), 665–671.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Altonji, J. G., Elder, T. E., & Taber, C. R. (2005). An evaluation of instrumental variable strategies for estimating the effects of Catholic schooling. Journal of Human Resources, 40(4), 791–821.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bertola, G., & Checchi, D. (2002). Sorting and private education in Italy. Centre for Economic Policy Research, Discussion Paper No. 3198.

  5. Betts, J. R. (1995). Does school quality matter? Evidence from the national longitudinal survey of youth. Review of Economics and Statistics, 77(2), 231–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Card, D. (1993). Using geographic variation in college proximity to estimate the return to schooling. NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper No. 4483.

  7. Card, D., & Krueger, A. B. (1992). Does school quality matter? Returns to education and the characteristics of public schools in the United States. Journal of Political Economy, 100(1), 1–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Card, D., & Krueger, A. B. (1996). School resources and student outcomes: an overview of the literature and new evidence from North and South Carolina. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10(4), 31–50.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Coleman, J., & Hoffer, T. (1987). Public, catholic, and private schools: the importance of community. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Coleman, J., Hoffer, T., & Kilgore, S. (1982). High school achievement: Public, catholic, and private schools compared. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  11. de Puelles Benítez, M. (1986). Educación e ideología en la España contemporánea. Madrid: Ed. Labor.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Duncan, T. (1994). Like father, like son, like mother, like daughter. Journal of Human Resources, 29(4), 950–988.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Evans, W. N., & Schwab, R. M. (1995). Finishing high school and starting college: Do catholic schools make a difference? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 110(4), 941–974.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Feinstein, L., & Symons, J. (1999). Attainment in secondary schools. Oxford Economic Papers, 51, 300–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fernández Enguita, M. (2003). La segunda generación ya está aquí. Papeles de Economía Española, 98, 238–261.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Figlio, D., & Ludwig, J. (2000). Sex, drugs, and catholic schools: Private schooling and nonmarket adolescent behaviour. NBER Working Paper 7990.

  17. Figlio, D., & Stone, J. (1999). Are private schools really better? Research in Labor Economics, 23, 115–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Freeman, R. B. (1986). Demand for education. In O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (eds.), Handbook of Labor Economics, North Holland: Amsterdam.

  19. González, B., & Dávila, D. (1998). Economic and cultural impediments to university education in Spain. Economics of Education Review, 17(1), 93–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Greene, W. H. (2008). Econometric analysis (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hanushek, E. A. (1986). The economics of schooling: Production and efficiency in public schools. Journal of Economic Literature, XXIV, 1141–1177.

    Google Scholar 

  22. McEwan, P. (2000). Comparing the effectiveness of public and private schools: A review of evidence and interpretations. Occasional paper no. 3. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Mora, J. G. (1997). Equity in Spanish higher education. Higher Education, 33, 233–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Murnane, R., Newstead, S., & Olsen, R. (1985). Comparing public and private schools: The puzzling role of selectivity bias. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 3, 23–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Neal, D. (1997). The effects of catholic secondary schooling on educational achievement. Journal of Labor Economics, 15(1), 98–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Newhouse, D., & Beegle, K. (2006). The effect of school type on academic achievement. Evidence from Indonesia. Journal of Human Resources, 41(3), 529–557.

    Google Scholar 

  27. OECD (2009). Education at a glance. OECD.

  28. Ordovensky, J. F. (1995). Effects of institutional attributes on enrolment choice: implications for postsecondary vocational education. Economics of Education Review, 14, 335–350.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Peraita, C., & Sánchez, R. (1998). The effect of family background on children’s level of schooling attainment in Spain. Applied Economics, 21, 1–32.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Sander, W. (1999). Private schools and public school achievement. Journal of Human Resources, 34(4), 697–709.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sander, W., & Krautmann, A. (1995). Catholic schools, dropout rates, and educational attainment. Economic Inquiry, 23, 217–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Sandy, J., & Duncan, K. (1996). Does private education increase earnings? Eastern Economic Journal, 22(3), 303–312.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Vanderberghe, V., & Robin, S. (2004). Evaluating the effectiveness of private education across countries: A comparison of methods. Labour Economics, 11, 487–506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Wooldridge, J. M. (2006). Introductory econometrics: A modern approach. USA: South-Western.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carlos García-Serrano.



See Tables 5 and 6.

Table 5 Descriptives of the full sample. ECVT (1999–2004)
Table 6 Results of the bivariate probit models (IV estimates, ‘strategy A’)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Albert, C., García-Serrano, C. Cleaning the slate? School choice and educational outcomes in Spain. High Educ 60, 559–582 (2010).

Download citation


  • School choice
  • Higher education
  • Human capital