Economic returns to education

  • Labor market consequences of the college boom around the world

    Better information on university quality may reduce underemployment and overeducation in developing countries

    As the number of secondary school graduates rises, many developing countries expand the supply of public and private universities or face pressure to do so. However, several factors point to the need for caution, including weak job markets, low-quality university programs, and job–education mismatches. More university graduates in this context could exacerbate unemployment, underemployment, and overeducation of professionals. Whether governments should regulate the quantity or quality of university programs, however, depends on the specific combination of factors in each country.
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  • Do higher levels of education and skills in an area benefit wider society?

    Education benefits individuals, but the societal benefits are likely even greater

    John V. Winters, December 2018
    Formal schooling increases earnings and provides other individual benefits. However, societal benefits of education may exceed individual benefits. Research finds that higher average education levels in an area are correlated with higher earnings, even for local residents with minimal education. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates appear to generate especially strong external effects, due to their role in stimulating innovation and economic growth. Several strategies to test for causality find human capital externalities do exist.
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  • Is the return to education the same for everybody?

    While a four-year college degree is financially beneficial for most people, it is not necessarily the best option for everyone

    Douglas Webber, October 2014
    A postsecondary degree is often held up as the one sure path to financial success. But is that true regardless of institutional quality, discipline studied, or individual characteristics? Is a college degree always worth the cost? Students deciding whether to invest in college and what field to study may be making the most important financial decision of their lives. The return to education varies greatly by institutional quality, discipline, and individual characteristics. Estimating the returns for as many options as possible, and making that information as transparent as possible, are paramount in helping prospective students make the best decision.
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  • The role of preschool in reducing inequality

    Preschool improves child outcomes, especially for disadvantaged children

    Jane Waldfogel, December 2015
    Children from disadvantaged families have lower levels of school readiness when they enter school than do children from more advantaged families. Many countries have tried to reduce this inequality through publicly provided preschool. Evidence on the potential of these programs to reduce inequality in child development is now quite strong. Long-term studies of large publicly funded programs in Europe and Latin America, and newer studies on state and local prekindergarten programs implemented more recently in the US, find that the programs do improve outcomes for young children, particularly for those from disadvantaged families.
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  • What is the economic value of literacy and numeracy?

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

    Anna Vignoles, January 2016
    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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  • Rethinking the skills gap

    Better understanding of skills mismatch is essential to finding effective policy options

    Evidence suggests that productivity would be much higher and unemployment much lower if the supply of and demand for skills were better matched. As a result, skills mismatch between workers (supply) and jobs (demand) commands the ongoing attention of policymakers in many countries. Policies intended to address the persistence of skills mismatch focus on the supply side of the issue by emphasizing worker education and training. However, the role of the demand side, that is, employers’ wage-setting practices, garners comparatively little policy attention.
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  • How do adult returns to schooling affect children’s enrollment?

    Raising future expected monetary gains to schooling and poor families’ current incomes promotes school enrollment in developing countries

    Kenneth A. Swinnerton, October 2016
    Universal completion of secondary education by 2030 is among the targets set by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Higher expected adult wages traced to schooling may play a major role in reaching this target as they are predicted to induce increased school enrollment for children whose families wish to optimally invest in their children’s future. However, low incomes and the obligation to meet immediate needs may forestall such investment. Studies suggest that school enrollment in developing countries is positively correlated with higher expected future wages, but poor families continue to under-enroll their children.
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  • Overeducation, skill mismatches, and labor market outcomes for college graduates

    Overskilling or overskilling plus overeducation are more likely than overeducation alone to harm employee welfare

    Peter J. Sloane, November 2014
    There is evidence that many college graduates are employed in jobs for which a degree is not required, and in which the skills they learned in college are not being fully used. Most of the literature on educational or skill mismatch is based on cross-sectional data, providing information at just one point in time. Drawing meaningful conclusions about mismatch, its dynamics, and its relationship to wages, job satisfaction, and job mobility requires panel data, which can reach more nuanced conclusions by allowing for individual differences, e.g. choosing a job because it offers compensation.
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