The research community
at the Institute includes
visiting scholars, consultants,
economists, research analysts,
and research assistants. These
scholars bring a diversity of
backgrounds, interests, and
expertise to research that
deepens our understanding
of economic opportunity
and inclusion as well as
policies that work to improve
As a teenager, Francesco Agostinelli learned it matters which
crowd you roll with.
In a small city on Italy’s east coast, “I went to a middle school
that was, let’s just say, not known to be particularly good,” Agostinelli
said. “I don’t think many economists have come from this
school!” In that environment, he credits his group of friends with
altering his life’s trajectory. From the outside, his pack might not
have seemed like a great influence, “but I learned skills that you
need to survive.”
Francesco Agostinelli Scholar Video
Why study teenagers? Francesco Agostinelli on modeling teens, peers, and parents.
Twenty-five years later, the critical role of peers is a recurring
theme in Agostinelli’s research. And while many researchers justifiably
focus on interventions in early childhood, the Institute visiting
scholar says the teen years can also be pivotal, largely because of
these peer effects—a point the pandemic abruptly drove home.
Agostinelli’s expertise put him in a strong position to model
how school shutdowns, parents’ varying capacities to work
from home, and isolation from friends would interact to create
long-lasting damage that widens inequality.
In the model, high school freshmen
from low-income households see their
academic achievement fall markedly when
schools close—the equivalent, on average,
of dropping from straight B’s to getting
C’s in half of their classes.
School quality and
finds isolation from
peers is the most
powerful factor in a
“The inequality of knowledge has
increased, which we think predicts the
probability of finishing college and lifetime
wages,” Agostinelli said. Even if students return to in-person
learning after a year, his model shows that by graduation, low-income
students have closed only half of the learning gap opened
by the pandemic shutdown. School quality and parenting matter,
but Agostinelli and his co-authors find that isolation from peers is
the most powerful factor.
The magazine of the opportunity & Inclusive Growth institute
In another paper, Agostinelli models a familiar tension for
parents: How much do you meddle with the crowd your kid hangs out with? In the model, parents with varying “authoritarian” tendencies
interact with teens’ preferences to befriend “cool” versus
“nerdy” kids. These interactions hold implications for academic
success and expanding income diversity in schools.
As he untangles the infinitely complex ways that kids acquire
skills, Agostinelli stresses the essential interplay between data
and theory. Just as a novel dataset can inspire the questions we
research, an intuitive theory can inspire the data we set out to collect.
Much like parents and teenagers, “measurement and theory,”
Agostinelli said, “should speak to each other.”
Jeff Horwich is the senior economics writer for the Minneapolis Fed. He has been an economic journalist with public radio, commissioned examiner for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and director of policy and communications for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. He received his master’s degree in applied economics from the University of Minnesota.