IZA World of Labor

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 include 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.

  • 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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  • How effective is compulsory schooling as a policy instrument?

    Changes in compulsory schooling laws have significant effects on certain population groups, but are costly to implement

    Colm P. Harmon, March 2017
    Compulsory schooling laws are a common policy tool to achieve greater participation in education, particularly from marginalized groups. Raising the compulsory schooling requirement forces students to remain in school which, on balance, is good for them in terms of labor market outcomes such as earnings. But the usefulness of this approach rests with how the laws affect the distribution of years of schooling, and the wider benefits of the increase in schooling. There is also evidence that such a policy has an intergenerational impact, which can help address persistence in poverty across generations.
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  • For long-term economic development, only skills matter

    Economic growth determines a nation’s long-term economic well-being and crucially depends on skills

    Eric A. Hanushek, March 2017
    Politicians typically focus on short-term economic issues; but, a nation’s long-term economic well-being is directly linked to its rate of economic growth. In turn, its growth rate is directly linked to the economically relevant skills of its population. Until recently, however, economists have found it hard to confirm this through empirical analysis because of difficulties in measuring the skills of different societies. International tests of mathematics and science achievement now offer reliable measures of a population’s relevant cognitive skills.
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  • Does broadband infrastructure boost employment?

    Broadband infrastructure has differing effects on workers of different skills

    Oliver Falck, March 2017
    Broadband infrastructure enables fast access to the internet, which, evidence suggests, has significant effects on economic growth. However, labor market related issues have not received as much consideration. These include quantifying employment effects of broadband infrastructure roll-out and questions about who exactly are the winners and losers in the labor market, and whether skills in information and communication technologies (ICT) are reflected in labor market outcomes such as wages. Understanding these complementary issues allows for policy conclusions that go beyond simply encouraging the subsidization of broadband internet infrastructure.
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  • Skills or jobs: Which comes first?

    Jobs require skills, but they also build skills and create a demand for them

    Jesko Hentschel, February 2017
    Skills are widely regarded as being necessary for boosting productivity, stimulating innovation, and creating new jobs, while skill mismatches are often cited as being responsible for a lack of dynamism in the labor market. However, heavy investments in technical and vocational training programs are seldom a “silver bullet.” Recent evidence on skill building not only points to the core importance of foundational skills (both cognitive and social) for success in the labor market, but also emphasizes how jobs themselves can lead to learning and shape social competencies that, in turn, ignite innovation and create more jobs.
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  • How important is career information and advice?

    Students’ decisions about their education can be, but are not always, improved by providing them with more information

    Sandra McNally, December 2016
    The quantity and quality of educational investment matter for labor market outcomes such as earnings and employment. Yet, not everyone knows this, and navigating the education system can be extremely complex both for students and their parents. A growing economic literature has begun to test whether interventions designed to improve information about the costs and benefits of education and application processes have an effect on students’ behavior. So far, findings have been mixed, although the positive findings arising from some very carefully targeted interventions give cause for hope.
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  • Can universal preschool increase the labor supply of mothers?

    The success of universal preschool education depends crucially on the policy parameters and specific country context

    Sarah Cattan, November 2016
    Since the 1970s, many countries have established free or highly subsidized education for all preschool children in the hope of improving children’s learning and socio-economic life chances and encouraging mothers to join the labor force. Evaluations reveal that these policies can increase maternal employment in the short term and may continue to do so even after the child is no longer in preschool by enabling mothers to gain more job skills and increase their attachment to the labor force. However, their effectiveness depends on the policy design, the country context, and the characteristics of mothers of preschoolers.
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  • What effect do vocational training vouchers have on the unemployed?

    Vouchers can create a market for training but may lengthen participants’ unemployment duration

    Anthony Strittmatter, November 2016
    The objective of providing vocational training for the unemployed is to increase their chances of re-employment and human capital accumulation. In comparison to mandatory course assignment by case workers, the awarding of vouchers increases recipients’ freedom to choose between different courses and makes non-redemption a possibility. In addition, vouchers may introduce market mechanisms between training providers. However, empirical evidence suggests that voucher allocation mechanisms prolong the unemployment duration of training participants. But, after an initial period of deterioration, better long-term employment opportunities are possible.
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