Economic returns to education

  • The role of cognitive and socio-emotional skills in labor markets

    Cognitive skills are more relevant in explaining earnings, socio-emotional skills in determining labor supply and schooling

    Pablo AcostaNoël Muller, October 2018
    Common proxies, such as years of education, have been shown to be ineffective at capturing cross-country differences in skills acquisition, as well as the role they play in the labor market. A large body of research shows that direct measures of skills, in particular cognitive and socio-emotional ones, provide more adequate estimations of individuals’ differences in potential productive capacity than the quantity of education they receive. Evidence shows that cognitive skills in particular are quite relevant to explain wages, while socio-emotional skills are more associated with labor force and education participation decisions.
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  • Do skills matter for wage inequality?

    Policies to tackle wage inequality should focus on skills alongside reform of labor market institutions

    Stijn Broecke, February 2016
    Policymakers in many OECD countries are increasingly concerned about high and rising inequality. Much of the evidence (as far back as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations) points to the importance of skills in tackling wage inequality. Yet a recent strand of the research argues that (cognitive) skills explain little of the cross-country differences in wage inequality. Does this challenge the received wisdom on the relationship between skills and wage inequality? No, because this recent research fails to account for the fact that the price of skill (and thus wage inequality) is determined to a large extent by the match of skill supply and demand.
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  • What is the economic value of literacy and numeracy? Updated

    Basic skills in literacy and numeracy are essential for success in the labor market

    Even in OECD countries, where an increasing proportion of the workforce has a university degree, the value of basic skills in literacy and numeracy remains high. Indeed, in some countries the return for such skills, in the form of higher wages, is sufficiently large to suggest that they are in high demand and that there is a relative scarcity. Policymakers need robust evidence in order to devise interventions that genuinely improve basic skills, not just of new school leavers entering the market, but also of the existing workforce. This would lead to significant improvements in the population that achieves a minimum level of literacy and numeracy.
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  • Language proficiency and immigrants’ economic integration

    It is vital to measure language proficiency well, as it crucially determines immigrants’ earnings

    Over recent decades, Western countries have admitted many immigrants from non-traditional regions (e.g. Philippines, India, China), which has coincided with poor economic integration. Language proficiency is an important determinant of economic integration; in addition to being a component of human capital, it plays a key role in facilitating the transmission of other components of human capital. Examining the strengths and weaknesses of objective and subjective measures of language proficiency is crucial for good integration policy, as is understanding the relationship between these measures and earnings, a key indicator of economic integration.
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  • Intergenerational return to human capital Updated

    Better educated parents invest more time and money in their children, who are more successful in the labor market

    Paul J. Devereux, November 2019
    Governments invest a lot of money in education, so it is important to understand the benefits of this spending. One essential aspect is that education can potentially make people better parents and thus improve the educational and employment outcomes of their children. Interventions that encourage the educational attainment of children from poorer families will reduce inequality in current and future generations. In addition to purely formal education, much less expensive interventions to improve parenting skills, such as parental involvement programs in schools, may also improve child development.
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  • Age at school entry: How old is old enough?

    A child’s age at school entry matters, and the implications of policy changes can have long-lasting effects

    Elizabeth Dhuey, March 2016
    Laws on age at school entry affect student achievement and often change for a number of reasons. Older students are more mature and ready to learn. This can have positive impacts on academic, employment, and earnings outcomes. The costs of holding children back include another year of childcare expenses or income forgone by the caregiver parent. Entering the workforce one year later also has implications for lifetime earnings and remittances to governments. School-entry policies could be a useful tool in increasing student achievement, but the short- and long-term impacts need to be better understood.
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  • The value of language skills Updated

    A common language facilitates communication and economic efficiency, but linguistic diversity has economic and cultural value too

    In today's globalized world, people are increasingly mobile and often need to communicate across different languages. Learning a new language is an investment in human capital. Migrants must learn the language of their destination country, but even non-migrants must often learn other languages if their work involves communicating with foreigners. Economic studies have shown that fluency in a dominant language is important to economic success and increases economic efficiency. However, maintaining linguistic diversity also has value since language is also an expression of people's culture.
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  • Improvement in European labor force participation

    Do structural reforms or educational expansion drive higher employment and participation rates?

    Daniel Gros, February 2019
    Employment and labor force participation (LFP) rates have increased throughout Europe since the 1990s, with little interruption from the Great Recession. While many credit labor market reforms for this progress, ongoing educational expansion might actually be more important. This implies that the overall employment rate of an economy can change if the share of the population with tertiary education increases, even in the absence of any labor market reforms or effects of the business cycle. Taking this compositional effect into account makes it possible to disentangle the impact of reforms.
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