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.

  • Adult literacy programs in developing countries

    While mostly 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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  • Age at school entry: How old is old enough?

    A child’s age at school entry matters, and the implications of policy changes can have long-lasting effects

    Elizabeth Dhuey, March 2016
    Laws on age at school entry affect student achievement and often change for a number of reasons. Older students are more mature and ready to learn. This can have positive impacts on academic, employment, and earnings outcomes. The costs of holding children back include another year of childcare expenses or income forgone by the caregiver parent. Entering the workforce one year later also has implications for lifetime earnings and remittances to governments. School-entry policies could be a useful tool in increasing student achievement, but the short- and long-term impacts need to be better understood.
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  • Can cash transfers reduce child labor?

    Cash transfers can reduce child labor if structured well and if they account for the reasons children work

    Furio C. Rosati, September 2016
    Cash transfers are a popular and successful means of tackling household vulnerability and promoting human capital investment. They can also reduce child labor, especially when it is a response to household vulnerability. But if not properly designed, cash transfers that promote children’s education can increase their economic activities in order to pay the additional costs of schooling. The efficacy of cash transfers may also be reduced if the transfers enable investment in productive assets that boost the returns to child labor. The impact of cash transfers must thus be assessed as part of the entire social protection system.
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  • Can higher education reduce inequality in developing countries?

    Expanding higher education might solve rising youth unemployment and widening inequality in Africa

    Abebe Shimeles, July 2016
    Developing countries often face two well-known structural problems: high youth unemployment and high inequality. In recent decades, policymakers have increased the share of government spending on education in developing countries to address both of these issues. The empirical literature offers mixed results on which type of education is most suitable to improve gainful employment and reduce inequality: is it primary, secondary, or tertiary education? Investigating recent literature on the returns to education in selected developing countries in Africa can help to answer this question.
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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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  • Class size: Does it matter for student achievement?

    Smaller classes are often associated with increased achievement, but the evidence is far from universal

    Christopher Jepsen, September 2015
    Numerous economic studies have considered the relationship between class size and student achievement, the majority of which have focused on elementary schools in the US and Europe. While the general finding is that smaller classes are associated with increased student achievement, a few high-quality studies find no relationship. Further, empirical research on the costs and benefits of smaller classes concludes that other education policies, such as tutoring, early childhood programs, or improving teacher quality would be better investments.
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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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  • 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, March 2015
    Formal schooling increases earnings and provides other individual benefits. However, societal benefits of education may exceed individual benefits. Research finds that increased average education levels in an area are correlated with higher earnings, even for locals with relatively little education. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates appear to have 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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  • 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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  • 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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