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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • School tracking and intergenerational social mobility

    Postponing school tracking can increase social mobility without significant adverse effects on educational achievement

    Tuomas Pekkarinen, December 2018
    The goal of school tracking (assigning students to different types of school by ability) is to increase educational efficiency by creating more homogeneous groups of students that are easier to teach. However, there are concerns that, if begun too early in the schooling process, tracking may improve educational attainment at the cost of reduced intergenerational social mobility. Recent empirical evidence finds no evidence of an efficiency–equality trade-off when tracking is postponed.
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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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  • The role of cognitive and socio-emotional skills in labor markets

    Cognitive skills are more relevant in explaining earnings, socio-emotional skills in determining labor supply and schooling

    Pablo AcostaNoël Muller, October 2018
    Common proxies, such as years of education, have been shown to be ineffective at capturing cross-country differences in skills acquisition, as well as the role they play in the labor market. A large body of research shows that direct measures of skills, in particular cognitive and socio-emotional ones, provide more adequate estimations of individuals’ differences in potential productive capacity than the quantity of education they receive. Evidence shows that cognitive skills in particular are quite relevant to explain wages, while socio-emotional skills are more associated with labor force and education participation decisions.
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  • Do social interactions in the classroom improve academic attainment?

    Student sorting into classes complicates policies that utilize peer effects to optimize educational outcomes

    Shqiponja Telhaj, June 2018
    The role of social interactions in modifying individual behavior is central to many fields of social science. In education, one essential aspect is that “good” peers can potentially improve students’ academic achievement, career choices, or labor market outcomes later in life. Indeed, evidence suggests that good peers are important in raising student attainment, both in compulsory schooling and university. Interventions that change the ability group composition in ways that improve student educational outcomes without exacerbating inequality therefore offer a promising basis for education policies.
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  • The labor market in New Zealand, 2000–2017

    Employment has grown steadily and the gender gap and skill premiums have fallen

    David C. Maré, April 2018
    New Zealand is a small open economy, with large international labor flows and skilled immigrants. Since 2000, employment growth has kept pace with strong migration-related population growth. While overall employment rates have remained relatively stable, they have increased substantially for older workers. In contrast, younger workers as well as the Maori and Pasifika ethnic groups experienced a sharp decline in employment rates and a rise in unemployment around the time of the global financial crisis. Wage gains have been modest and there has been a compression of earnings differentials by gender as well as by skill.
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  • The labor market in the UK, 2000–2016

    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 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, is not yet visible in labor market statistics.
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  • Why is youth unemployment so high and different across countries?

    Young people experience worse labor market outcomes than adults worldwide but the difference varies greatly internationally

    Francesco Pastore, January 2018
    In Germany, young people are no worse off than adults in the labor market, while in southern and eastern European countries, they fare three to four times worse. In Anglo-Saxon countries, both youth and adults fare better than elsewhere, but their unemployment rates fluctuate more over the business cycle. The arrangements developed in each country to help young people gain work experience explain the striking differences in their outcomes. A better understanding of what drives these differences in labor market performance of young workers is essential for policies to be effective
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  • Central exit exams improve student outcomes

    External school leaving exams raise student achievement and improve how grades are understood in the labor market

    Ludger Woessmann, January 2018
    Reaching the policy goal of improving student achieve­ment by adding resources to the school system has often proven elusive. By contrast, ample evidence indicates that central exit exams constitute an important feature of a school system’s institutional framework, which can hold students, teachers, schools, and administrators accountable for student outcomes. While critics point to issues such as teaching test-only skills, which may leave students ill-prepared for the real world, the evidence does not bear this out. Overall, central exams are related to better student achievement, favorable labor market outcomes, and higher economic growth.
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