Merit-based scholarships for university graduates a generation of Italian economists

Enrico Nano

We examine the role of financial aid in shaping the formation of human capital. We study the impact of a large merit-based scholarship for graduate studies in affecting individuals’ occupational choices, career trajectories, and labor market outcomes of a generation of Italian economists, with special focus on gender gaps and the role of social mobility. We construct a unique dataset that combines archival sources and includes microdata for the universe of applicants to the scholarship program and follow these individuals over their professional life. We discuss five main results: (i) it is easier to become a high achiever for individuals from households with a lower socio-economic status if they reside in high social mobility provinces; (ii) women are less likely to be shortlisted for a scholarship as they tend to receive lower scores in the most subjective criteria used in the initial screening of candidates; (iii) scholarship winners are much more likely to choose a research career and this effect is larger for women; (iv) women who work in Italian universities tend to have less citations than men who work in Italy. However, the citation gender gap is smaller for candidates who received a scholarship and (iv) women take longer to be promoted to the rank of full professor, even after controlling for academic productivity.