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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • Slavery, racial inequality, and education

    Historical slavery may be a driver of human capital and its unequal racial distribution, with implications for education and income inequalities

    Graziella Bertocchi, February 2015
    Income inequality is a critical issue in both political and public debate. Educational attainment is a key causal factor of continuing inequality, since it influences human capital accumulation and, as a consequence, the unequal distribution of earnings. Educational inequality displays a racial dimension that is particularly persistent and difficult to eradicate through policy measures. Its roots lie in the colonial institution of slave labor, which was widespread in the US and Latin America up until the 19th century. However, the influence of slavery differs significantly across countries and between regions.
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  • Adult literacy programs in developing countries

    While missing their primary objectives, adult literacy programs can still improve key socio-economic outcomes

    Niels-Hugo Blunch, July 2017
    In addition to the traditional education system targeting children and youth, one potentially important vehicle to improve literacy and numeracy skills is adult literacy programs (ALPs). In many developing countries, however, these programs do not seem to achieve these hoped for, ex ante, objectives and have therefore received less attention, if not been largely abandoned, in recent years. But, evidence shows that ALPs do affect other important socio-economic outcomes such as health, household income, and labor market participation by enhancing participants’ health knowledge and income-generating activities.
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  • Do skills matter for wage inequality?

    Policies to tackle wage inequality should focus on skills alongside reform of labor market institutions

    Stijn Broecke, February 2016
    Policymakers in many OECD countries are increasingly concerned about high and rising inequality. Much of the evidence (as far back as Adam Smith’s ) points to the importance of skills in tackling wage inequality. Yet a recent strand of the research argues that (cognitive) skills explain little of the cross-country differences in wage inequality. Does this challenge the received wisdom on the relationship between skills and wage inequality? No, because this recent research fails to account for the fact that the price of skill (and thus wage inequality) is determined to a large extent by the match of skill supply and demand.
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  • Income inequality and social origins

    Promoting intergenerational mobility can make societies more egalitarian

    Lorenzo Cappellari, May 2016
    Income inequality has been rising in many countries. Is this bad? One way to decide is to look at the change in incomes across generations (intergenerational mobility) and, more generally, at the extent to which income differences among individuals are traceable to their social origins. Inequalities that reflect factors largely out of one’s control—such as local schools and communities—require attention in order to reduce income inequality. Evidence shows a negative association between income inequality and intergenerational mobility. The debate on whether community effects exert additional effects is still open.
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  • The promises and pitfalls of universal early education

    Universal early education can be beneficial, and more so for the poor, but quality matters

    Elizabeth U. Cascio, January 2015
    There is widespread interest in universal early education, both to promote child development and to support maternal employment. Positive long-term findings from small-scale early education interventions for low-income children in the US have greatly influenced the public discussion. However, such findings may be of limited value for policymakers considering larger-scale, more widely accessible programs. Instead, the best insight into the potential impacts of universal early education comes from analysis of these programs themselves, operating at scale. This growing research base suggests that universal early education can benefit both children and families, but quality matters.
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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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  • Income contingent loans in higher education financing

    Internationally, there has been a student financing revolution towards income contingent loans

    Bruce Chapman, February 2016
    Around nine countries currently use a national income contingent loan (ICL) scheme for higher education tuition using the income tax system. Increased international interest in ICL validates an examination of its costs and benefits relative to the traditional financing system, government-guaranteed bank loans (GGBLs). Bank-type loans exhibit poor economic characteristics: namely, repayment hardships for the disadvantaged, and default. This damages credit reputations and can be associated with high taxpayer subsidies. ICLs avoid these problems, but effective collection of debt requires a sophisticated mechanism.
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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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