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.

  • Intergenerational return to human capital

    Better educated parents invest more time and money in their children, who are more successful in the labor market

    Paul J. Devereux, May 2014
    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?

    Why spending on occupational skills can yield economic returns to employers

    Robert Lerman, May 2014
    Economists once believed firms do not pay to develop occupational skills that workers could use in other, often competing, firms. Researchers now recognize that most firms benefit from investing in apprenticeship training. 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 a supply of well-trained workers during sudden increases in demand and to fill leadership positions.
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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, May 2014
    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 youth mentoring programs change the perspectives and improve the life opportunities of at-risk youth?

    While most effects are positive, they tend to be modest and fade over time—in addition, some mentoring programs can backfire

    Mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America have been providing positive role models and building social skills for more than a century. However, most formal mentoring programs are relatively novel and researchers have only recently begun to rigorously evaluate their impact on changing at-risk youth’s perspectives and providing opportunities for them to achieve better life outcomes. While a variety of mentoring and counseling programs have emerged around the world in recent years, knowledge of their effectiveness remains incomplete.
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  • Does substance use affect educational outcomes?

    There is little evidence that substance use reduces educational attainment

    Daniel I. Rees, May 2014
    A non-trivial portion of traffic fatalities involve alcohol or illicit drugs. But does the use of alcohol and illegal substances—which is linked to depression, suicide, and criminal activity—also reduce academic performance? Recent studies suggest that drinking alcohol has a negative, if modest, effect on grades, and although students who use illegal substances are more likely to drop out of 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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  • How to attract foreign students

    International student mobility can be good for migrating students, their home country, the host country, and those remaining at home

    Arnaud Chevalier, July 2014
    To expand the skilled workforce, countries need to attract skilled migrants. One way of doing this is by attracting and retaining international students. Empirical evidence suggests that concerns about brain drain—that is, the emigration of highly qualified workers—are overblown and that student migration can positively affect economic growth in both sending and receiving countries. However, migrants themselves reap most of the gains, through higher earnings. So that in the end, international student mobility can be beneficial for all participants: migrating students and those who remain at home, as well as home and host societies.
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  • Human capital effects of marriage payments

    Investing in female human capital can reduce brideprice and dowry practices and increase welfare

    Siwan Anderson, September 2014
    Payments at the time of marriage, which are ubiquitous in developing countries, can be substantial enough to impoverish parents. Brideprice and dowry have both been linked to domestic violence against women, and inflation in these payments has prompted legislation against them in several jurisdictions. Marriage payments are often a substitute for investment in female human capital, so from a welfare and policy perspective, they should be prohibited. This highlights the importance of promoting direct economic returns over legal and customary rights.
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  • Is the return to education the same for everybody?

    While a four-year college degree is financially beneficial for most people, it is not necessarily the best option for everyone

    Douglas Webber, October 2014
    A postsecondary degree is often held up as the one sure path to financial success. But is that true regardless of institutional quality, discipline studied, or individual characteristics? Is a college degree always worth the cost? Students deciding whether to invest in college and what field to study may be making the most important financial decision of their lives. The return to education varies greatly by institutional quality, discipline, and individual characteristics. Estimating the returns for as many options as possible, and making that information as transparent as possible, are paramount in helping prospective students make the best decision.
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  • Overeducation, skill mismatches, and labor market outcomes for college graduates

    Overskilling or overskilling plus overeducation are more likely than overeducation alone to harm employee welfare

    Peter J. Sloane, November 2014
    There is evidence that many college graduates are employed in jobs for which a degree is not required, and in which the skills they learned in college are not being fully used. Most of the literature on educational or skill mismatch is based on cross-sectional data, providing information at just one point in time. Drawing meaningful conclusions about mismatch, its dynamics, and its relationship to wages, job satisfaction, and job mobility requires panel data, which can reach more nuanced conclusions by allowing for individual differences, e.g. choosing a job because it offers compensation.
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  • Youth labor market interventions

    Comprehensive programs that focus on skills can reduce unemployment and upgrade skills in OECD countries

    Jochen Kluve, December 2014
    Reducing youth unemployment and generating more and better youth employment opportunities are key policy challenges worldwide. Active labor market programs for disadvantaged youth may be an effective tool in such cases, but the results have often been disappointing in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The key to a successful youth intervention program is comprehensiveness, comprising multiple targeted components, including job-search assistance, counseling, training, and placement services. Such programs can be expensive, however, which underscores the need to focus on education policy and earlier interventions in the education system.
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