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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Family structure and children’s educational attainment in transition economies

    Access to education has been hampered by economic and family shocks in south-east Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union

    Lucia Mangiavacchi, October 2016
    Compared to developing economies, European transition economies had high levels of human capital when their transitions began, but a lack of resources and policies to protect poor families hampered children’s access to education, especially for non-compulsory school grades. Different phenomena associated with transition also negatively affected children’s education: e.g. parental absence due to migration, health problems, and alcohol abuse. These findings call for a greater policy focus on education and for monitoring of the schooling progress of children in special family circumstances.
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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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  • Do schooling reforms improve long-term health?

    It is difficult to find consistent evidence that schooling reforms provide health benefits

    David Madden, October 2016
    A statistical association between more education and better health outcomes has long been observed, but in the absence of experimental data researchers have struggled to find a causal effect. Schooling reforms such as raising school leaving age, which have been enacted in many countries, can be viewed as a form of natural experiment and provide a possible method of identifying such an effect. However, the balance of evidence so far is that these reforms have had little impact on long-term health. Thus, policymakers should be cautious before anticipating a health effect when introducing reforms of this nature.
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  • How manipulating test scores affects school accountability and student achievement

    Standardized testing can create incentives to manipulate test results and generate misleading indicators for public policy

    Erich Battistin, September 2016
    Standardized testing has become the accepted means of measuring a school’s quality. However, the associated rise in test-based accountability creates incentives for schools, teachers, and students to manipulate test scores. Illicit behavior may also occur in institutional settings where performance standards are weak. These issues are important because inaccurate measurement of student achievement leads to poor or ineffective policy conclusions. The consequences of mismeasured student achievement for policy conclusions have been documented in many institutional contexts in Europe and North America, and guidelines can be devised for the future.
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