Education and human capital

Education shows great resilience to shocks—labor demand for highly skilled workers has remained high in all kinds of economic conditions. Public policy for education and human capital includes increasing the economic and social returns on education, fostering greater educational attainment, encouraging social and economic mobility, and providing vocational education, training, and lifelong learning.

  • The value of financial literacy and financial education for workers

    A financially literate workforce helps the economy, but acquiring the needed skills can be costly

    Pierre-Carl Michaud, November 2017
    The level of financial literacy in developed countries is low and contributes to growing wealth inequality. Benefits from increasing the level of financial literacy include more effective saving for retirement and better debt management. However, there are significant costs in terms of time and money of acquiring financial literacy, which imply that the net value of acquiring financial literacy is heterogeneous in the population. This potentially makes designing effective interventions difficult.
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  • Do post-prison job opportunities reduce recidivism?

    Increasing the availability of high-quality job opportunities can reduce recidivism among released prisoners

    Kevin Schnepel, November 2017
    The majority of individuals released from prison face limited employment opportunities and do not successfully reintegrate into society. The inability to find stable work is often cited as a key determinant of failed re-entry (or “recidivism”). However, empirical evidence that demonstrates a causal impact of job opportunities on recidivism is sparse. In fact, several randomized evaluations of employment-focused programs find increases in employment but little impact on recidivism. Recent evidence points to wages and job quality as important determinants of recidivism among former prisoners.
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  • Fighting employment informality with schooling

    Labor force composition is critical for understanding employment informality in developing countries

    Developing countries have long been struggling to fight informality, focusing on instruments such as labor legislation enforcement, temporary contracts, and changes in taxes imposed on small firms. However, improvements in the labor force’s schooling and skill level may be more effective in reducing informality in the long term. Higher-skilled workers are typically employed by larger firms that use more capital, and that are more likely to be formal. Additionally, when skilled and unskilled workers are complementary in production, unskilled workers’ wages tend to increase, adding yet another force toward reducing informality.
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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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  • Air pollution, educational achievements, and human capital formation

    Exposure to elevated levels of air pollution adversely affects educational outcomes

    Sefi Roth, August 2017
    The link between air pollution and human health is well-documented in the epidemiology and economic literature. Recently, an increasing body of research has shown that air pollution—even in relatively low doses—also affects educational outcomes across several distinct age groups and varying lengths of exposure. This implies that a narrow focus on traditional health outcomes, such as morbidity and mortality, may understate the true benefit of reducing pollution, as air pollution also affects scholastic achievement and human capital formation.
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  • Adult literacy programs in developing countries

    While mostly missing their primary objectives, adult literacy programs can still improve key socio-economic outcomes

    Niels-Hugo Blunch, July 2017
    In addition to the traditional education system targeting children and youth, one potentially important vehicle to improve literacy and numeracy skills is adult literacy programs (ALPs). In many developing countries, however, these programs do not seem to achieve these hoped for, ex ante, objectives and have therefore received less attention, if not been largely abandoned, in recent years. But, evidence shows that ALPs do affect other important socio-economic outcomes such as health, household income, and labor market participation by enhancing participants’ health knowledge and income-generating activities.
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  • Does education strengthen the life skills of adolescents?

    Secondary and higher education are windows of opportunity for boosting students’ life skills

    Stefanie Schurer, June 2017
    Life skills, sometimes referred to as noncognitive skills or personality traits (e.g. conscientiousness or locus of control—the belief to influence events and their outcomes), affect labor market productivity. Policy makers and academics are thus exploring whether such skills should be taught at the high school or college level. A small portfolio of recent studies shows encouraging evidence that education could strengthen life skills in adolescence. However, as no uniform approach exists on which life skills are most important and how to best measure them, many important questions must be answered before life skill development can become an integral part of school curricula.
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  • Multiple job-holding: Career pathway or dire straits?

    Moonlighting responds to economic needs, but can generate new skills and careers

    Multiple job-holding, or “moonlighting,” is an important form of atypical employment in most economies. New forms of work, driven by digitalization, may enable its future growth. However, many misconceptions exist, including the belief that multiple job-holders are low-skilled workers who moonlight primarily for financial reasons, or that the practice increases during economic downturns. Recent literature highlights the significant links between moonlighting and job mobility. Multiple job-holding allows for the development of workers’ skills and spurs entrepreneurship.
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  • Is teacher certification an effective tool for developing countries?

    Increasing teacher certification in developing countries is widely believed to improve student performance; yet the evidence suggests otherwise

    Todd Pugatch, April 2017
    Teachers are perhaps the most important determinant of education quality. But what makes a teacher effective? Developing countries expend substantial resources on certifying teachers and retaining those who become certified; moreover, policymakers and aid donors prioritize increasing the prevalence of certified teachers. Yet there is little evidence that certification improves student outcomes. In fact, augmenting a school's teaching corps with contract teachers hired outside the civil service and without formal qualifications may be more effective in boosting student performance.
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  • Does homeownership affect education outcomes?

    Homeownership facilitates investment in human capital, though direct effects on education outcomes are unclear

    Stephen Whelan, April 2017
    Homeownership has important economic implications for society and individuals. At the social level is the greater civic engagement that homeowners tend to exhibit, while at the individual level an important outcome associated with housing tenure is better education outcomes, especially for children. The causal impact of tenure, in particular of homeownership, on education is mediated through a range of mechanisms. Evidence for the direct benefit of homeownership itself is less clear, though positive impacts associated with homeownership are stronger for low-income households.
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