This paper studies voluntary delays in school entry (called ‘academic redshirting’) using Hungarian administrative testscore data and survey data on mental health for 2008–2017, and exploiting an administrative barrier—a school-readiness evaluation—compulsory for potentially redshirted children born before January 1st. By comparing children born around January 1st, I measure the impact of redshirting on the complier children who may or may not be school-ready—but, from whom this institutional barrier has a deterring impact from being redshirted. Understanding redshirting brings a new and important angle on school-readiness as it is relevant for parents’ decisions, for policy, and for understanding heterogeneous outcomes. Also, my data on all students’ birthdate, along with class identifiers, allow me to separate within-class relative and absolute age effects, which is unique to the literature. I find that redshirted children have 0.1-0.2 standard deviations higher testscores from grade 6 to 10, are less likely to fail a grade by the age of 12, and are more (less) likely to attend the academic (vocational) high school track. I find that boys have larger and persistent returns from redshirting, on all student outcomes, and returns to mental health are significantly positive only for disadvantaged boys. The results suggest that mental health is an important mechanism for redshirted disadvantaged boys: boosted human capital in the extra year before school leads to better mental health associated with better student achievement. This mechanism based on human capital accumulation is consistent with the positive redshirting effects to be found driven solely by absolute age effects, as opposed to within-class relative age effects.
The paper has been previously circulated under the title “Returns to Starting School Later: Academic Redshirting vs. Lucky Date of Birth”.