The Effect of Superstar Firms on College Major Choice

Publication Date
Financial Markets Group Discussion Papers DP 772
Publication Date
Paul Woolley Centre Discussion Papers No 56
Publication Authors

We study the effect of superstar firms on an important human capital decision – college students’ choice of major. Past salient, extreme events in an industry, as proxied by cross-sectional skewness in stock returns (or in favorable news coverage), are associated with a disproportionately larger number of college students choosing to major in related fields, even after controlling for the average industry return. This tendency to follow the superstars, however, results in a temporary over-supply of human capital. Specifically, we provide evidence that the additional labor supply due to salient, extreme events lowers the average wage earned by entry-level employees when students enter the job market. At the same time, employment size and employee turnover stay roughly constant in related industries, consistent with the view that labor demand is relatively inelastic in the short run. In the longer term, firms cope with the supply increase by gradually expanding the number of positions that require prior experience.