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The Effect of Schooling on Cognitive Skills

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  • Carlsson, Magnus

    ()
    (Linnaeus University)

  • Dahl, Gordon B.

    ()
    (University of California, San Diego)

  • Rooth, Dan-Olof

    ()
    (Linnaeus University)

Abstract

How schooling affects cognitive skills is a fundamental question for studies of human capital and labor markets. While scores on cognitive ability tests are positively associated with schooling, it has proven difficult to ascertain whether this relationship is causal. Moreover, the effect of schooling is difficult to separate from the confounding factors of age at test date, relative age within a classroom, season of birth, and cohort effects. In this paper, we exploit conditionally random variation in the assigned test date for a battery of cognitive tests which almost all 18 year-old males were required to take in preparation for military service in Sweden. Both age at test date and number of days spent in school vary randomly across individuals after flexibly controlling for date of birth, parish, and expected graduation date (the three variables the military conditioned on when assigning test date). We find an extra 10 days of school instruction raises cognitive scores on crystallized intelligence tests (synonym and technical comprehension tests) by approximately one percent of a standard deviation, whereas extra nonschool days have almost no effect. The benefit of additional school days is homogeneous, with similar effect sizes based on past grades in school, parental education, and father's earnings. In contrast, test scores on fluid intelligence tests (spatial and logic tests) do not increase with additional days of schooling, but do increase modestly with age. These findings have important implications for questions about the malleability of cognitive skills in young adults, schooling models of signaling versus human capital, the interpretation of test scores in wage regressions, and policies related to the length of the school year.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6913.

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Length: 44 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6913

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Keywords: cognitive skill formation; human capital;

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References

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  1. Dobkin, Carlos & Ferreira, Fernando, 2010. "Do school entry laws affect educational attainment and labor market outcomes?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 40-54, February.
  2. J. A. Hausman, 1976. "Specification Tests in Econometrics," Working papers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics 185, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. Justin McCrary & Heather Royer, 2006. "The Effect of Female Education on Fertility and Infant Health: Evidence from School Entry Policies Using Exact Date of Birth," NBER Working Papers 12329, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Lindqvist, Erik & Westman, Roine, 2009. "The Labor Market Returns to Cognitive and Noncognitive Ability: Evidence from the Swedish Enlistment," Working Paper Series, Research Institute of Industrial Economics 794, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  5. Joshua D. Angrist & Alan B. Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," NBER Working Papers 3572, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Kasey S. Buckles & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2013. "Season of Birth and Later Outcomes: Old Questions, New Answers," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(3), pages 711-724, July.
  7. Cawley, John & Heckman, James & Vytlacil, Edward, 2001. "Three observations on wages and measured cognitive ability," Labour Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 419-442, September.
  8. Michael Fertig & Jochen Kluve, 2005. "The Effect of Age at School Entry on Educational Attainment in Germany," RWI Discussion Papers, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung 0027, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung.
  9. McKinley L. Blackburn & David Neumark, 1991. "Omitted-Ability Bias and the Increase in the Return to Schooling," NBER Working Papers 3693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
  11. Taber, Christopher R, 2001. "The Rising College Premium in the Eighties: Return to College or Return to Unobserved Ability?," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(3), pages 665-91, July.
  12. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-66, May.
  13. Elizabeth Cascio & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2007. "First in the Class? Age and the Education Production Function," NBER Working Papers 13663, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  15. Datar, Ashlesha, 2006. "Does delaying kindergarten entrance give children a head start?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 43-62, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Daniel A. Kamhöfer & Hendrik Schmitz, 2013. "Analyzing Zero Returns to Education in Germany: Heterogeneous Effects and Skill Formation," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 598, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. Joshua Goodman, 1969. "Flaking Out: Student Absences and Snow Days as Disruptions of Instructional Time," Working Paper 141961, Harvard University OpenScholar.
  3. Torberg Falch & Ole Henning Nyhus & Bjarne Strom, 2013. "Causal effects of mathematics," Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology 15013, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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