Shortening secondary school duration may
increase the skilled workforce in aging societies
The main goal of secondary school education in
developed countries is to prepare students for higher education and the
labor market. That demands high investments in study duration and
specialized fields to meet rising skill requirements. However, these demands
for more education are in opposition to calls for early entry to the labor
market, to lengthen working lives to meet the rising costs associated with
an aging population and to enable the intergenerational transfer of skills.
One way to lengthen working lives is to shorten the duration of secondary
school, an option recently implemented in Canada and Germany. The empirical
evidence shows mixed effects.
Preschool improves child outcomes, especially
for disadvantaged children
Children from disadvantaged families have lower
levels of school readiness when they enter school than do children from more
advantaged families. Many countries have tried to reduce this inequality
through publicly provided preschool. Evidence on the potential of these
programs to reduce inequality in child development is now quite strong.
Long-term studies of large publicly funded programs in Europe and Latin
America, and newer studies on state and local prekindergarten programs
implemented more recently in the US, find that the programs do improve
outcomes for young children, particularly for those from disadvantaged
Policies to tackle wage inequality should focus
on skills alongside reform of labor market institutions
Policymakers in many OECD countries are
increasingly concerned about high and rising inequality. Much of the
evidence (as far back as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of
Nations) 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.
Expanding higher education might solve rising
youth unemployment and widening inequality in Africa
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.
Raising future expected monetary gains to
schooling and poor families’ current incomes promotes school enrollment in
Universal completion of secondary education by
2030 is among the targets set by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development
Goals. Higher expected adult wages traced to schooling may play a major role
in reaching this target as they are predicted to induce increased school
enrollment for children whose families wish to optimally invest in their
children’s future. However, low incomes and the obligation to meet immediate
needs may forestall such investment. Studies suggest that school enrollment
in developing countries is positively correlated with higher expected future
wages, but poor families continue to under-enroll their children.