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The causal effect of education on earnings

In: Handbook of Labor Economics

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  • Card, David

Abstract

This paper surveys the recent literature on the causal relationship between education and earnings. I focus on four areas of work: theoretical and econometric advances in modelling the causal effect of education in the presence of heterogeneous returns to schooling; recent studies that use institutional aspects of the education system to form instrumental variables estimates of the return to schooling; recent studies of the earnings and schooling of twins; and recent attempts to explicitly model sources of heterogeneity in the returns to education. Consistent with earlier surveys of the literature, I conclude that the average (or average marginal) return to education is not much below the estimate that emerges from a standard human capital earnings function fit by OLS. Evidence from the latest studies of identical twins suggests a small upward "ability" bias -- on the order of 10%. A consistent finding among studies using instrumental variables based on institutional changes in the education system is that the estimated returns to schooling are 20-40% above the corresponding OLS estimates. Part of the explanation for this finding may be that marginal returns to schooling for certain subgroups -- particularly relatively disadvantaged groups with low education outcomes -- are higher than the average marginal returns to education in the population as a whole.

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This chapter was published in:

  • O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), 1999. "Handbook of Labor Economics," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier, edition 1, volume 3, number 3.
    This item is provided by Elsevier in its series Handbook of Labor Economics with number 3-30.

    Handle: RePEc:eee:labchp:3-30

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