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 labor market in the UK, 2000–2019 Updated

    Unemployment rose only modestly during the Great Recession and fell strongly since, with productivity and wages lagging behind

    Experiences during the Great Recession support the view that the UK labor market is relatively flexible. Unemployment rose less and recovered faster than in most other European economies. However, this success has been accompanied by a stagnation of productivity and wages; an open question is whether this represents a cyclical phenomenon or a structural problem. In addition, the effects of the planned exit of the UK from the EU (Brexit), which is quite possibly the greatest current threat to the stability of the UK labor market, are not yet visible in labor market statistics.
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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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  • Understanding teacher effectiveness to raise pupil attainment

    Teacher effectiveness has a dramatic effect on student outcomes—how can it be increased?

    Simon Burgess, December 2019
    Teacher effectiveness is the most important component of the education process within schools for pupil attainment. One estimate suggests that, in the US, replacing the least effective 8% of teachers with average teachers has a present value of $100 trillion. Researchers have a reasonable understanding of how to measure teacher effectiveness; but the next step, understanding the best ways to raise it, is where the research frontier now lies. Two areas in particular appear to hold the greatest promise: reforming hiring practices and contracts, and reforming teacher training and development.
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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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  • Do firms benefit from apprenticeship investments? Updated

    Why spending on occupational skills can yield economic returns to employers

    Robert Lerman, October 2019
    Economists have long believed that firms will not pay to develop occupational skills that workers could use in other, often competing, firms. Researchers now recognize that firms that invest in apprenticeship training generally reap good returns. Evidence indicates that financial returns to firms vary. Some recoup their investment within the apprenticeship period, while others see their investment pay off only after accounting for reduced turnover, recruitment, and initial training costs. Generally, the first year of apprenticeships involves significant costs, but subsequently, the apprentice's contributions exceed his/her wages and supervisory costs. Most participating firms view apprenticeships as offering certainty that all workers have the same high level of expertise and ensuring an adequate supply of well-trained workers to cover sudden increases in demand and to fill leadership positions.
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  • University study abroad and graduates’ employability Updated

    There is a positive association between study abroad and graduates’ job prospects, though it is unclear if the link is causal

    Giorgio Di Pietro, May 2019
    In recent decades, the number of university students worldwide who have received some part of their education abroad has been rising rapidly. Despite the popularity of international student exchange programs, however, debate continues over what students actually gain from this experience. A major advantage claimed for study abroad programs is that they can enhance employability by providing graduates with the skills and experience employers look for. These programs are also expected to increase the probability that graduates will work abroad, and so may especially benefit students willing to pursue an international career. However, most of the evidence is qualitative and based on small samples.
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  • Do school inputs crowd out parents’ investments in their children?

    Public education tends to crowd out parents’ time and money, but careful policy design may mitigate this

    Birgitta Rabe, May 2019
    Many countries around the world are making substantial and increasing public investments in children by providing resources for schooling from early years through to adolescence. Recent research has looked at how parents respond to children’s schooling opportunities, highlighting that public inputs can alternatively encourage or crowd out parental inputs. Most evidence finds that parents reduce their own efforts as schooling improves, dampening the efficiency of government expenditure. Policymakers may thus want to focus government provision on schooling inputs that are less easily substituted.
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  • Does substance use affect academic performance? Updated

    Substance use reduces the academic performance of university students

    Daniel I. Rees, April 2019
    A non-trivial portion of traffic fatalities involve alcohol or illicit drugs. But does substance use—which is linked to depression, suicide, and criminal activity—also reduce academic performance? Recent studies suggest that the consumption of alcohol has a negative effect on the grades of university students. Likewise, there is evidence that marijuana use reduces the academic performance of university students. Although students who use illicit substances are more likely to drop out of high school than those who do not, this may reflect the influence of other, difficult-to-measure factors at the individual level, such as personality.
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  • Why do STEM immigrants do better in one country than another?

    Where STEM immigrants were educated strongly influences their economic success and possibly their impact on innovation

    Garnett PicotFeng Hou, April 2019
    Canada, the US, and most Western countries are looking to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) immigrants to boost innovation and economic growth. Canada in particular has welcomed many STEM immigrants over the past quarter of a century. In the US, there is an ongoing debate about whether the H–1B visa program is being used effectively to attract more STEM immigrants. Interestingly, significant differences exist between the two countries in earnings and likely the innovation activity of highly educated immigrants, which highlights the likely role of immigration policy in determining such outcomes.
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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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