IZA World of Labor

Program evaluation

Program evaluation provides an overview of the effectiveness of a variety of policies that have been tested in diverse settings across various countries. The knowledge provided suggests whether or not the individual and the economy fair better without the measures studied.

  • How does grandparent childcare affect labor supply?

    Childcare provided by grandparents helps young working mothers, but reduces the labor supply of older women

    Giulio Zanella, March 2017
    Older people in developed countries are living longer and healthier lives. A prolonged and healthy mature period of life is often associated with continued and active participation in the labor market. At the same time, active grandparents can offer their working offspring a free, flexible, and reliable source of childcare. However, while grandparent-provided childcare helps young parents (especially young mothers) overcome the negative effects of child rearing on their labor market participation, it can sometimes conflict with the objective of providing additional income through employment for older workers, most notably older women.
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  • Identifying and measuring economic discrimination

    Using decomposition methods helps measure both the amount and source of economic discrimination between groups

    Differences in wages between men and women, white and black workers, or any two distinct groups are a controversial feature of the labor market, raising concern about discrimination by employers. Decomposition methods shed light on those differences by separating them into: (i) composition effects, which are explained by differences in the distribution of observable variables, e.g. education level; and (ii) structural effects, which are explained by differences in the returns to observable and unobservable variables. Often, a significant structural effect, such as different returns to education, can be indicative of discrimination.
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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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  • Privatizing sick pay: Does it work?

    Employer provision of sickness/disability benefits reduces take-up but may also have unintended effects

    Pierre Koning, December 2016
    Public schemes for sickness benefits and disability insurance are often criticized for the lack of incentive they provide for preventive and reintegration activities by employers. To stimulate the interest of employers in engaging with these schemes, several modes of privatization could be considered, including the provision of sickness benefits by employers, “experience rating” of disability insurance costs, employer self-insurance, or insurance by private insurance providers. These types of employer incentives seem to lower sickness rates, but they also come at the risk of increased under-reporting and less employment opportunities for workers with disabilities or bad health conditions. Policymakers should be aware of this trade-off.
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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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  • 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 to minimize lock-in effects of programs for unemployed workers

    Appopriate timing and targeting of activation programs for the unemployed can help improve their cost-effectiveness

    Conny Wunsch, September 2016
    Activation programs, such as job search assistance, training, or work experience programs for unemployed workers, typically initially produce negative employment effects. These so-called “lock-in effects” occur because participants spend less time and effort on job search activities than non-participants. Lock-in effects need to be offset by sufficiently large post-participation employment or earnings for the programs to be cost-effective. They represent key indirect costs that are often more important than direct program costs. The right timing and targeting of these programs can improve their cost-effectiveness by reducing lock-in effects.
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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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