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Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions

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Author Info

  • Heckman, James J.

    ()
    (University of Chicago)

  • Lochner, Lance

    ()
    (Western University, Canada)

  • Todd, Petra E.

    ()
    (University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract

The Mincer earnings function is the cornerstone of a large literature in empirical economics. This paper discusses the theoretical foundations of the Mincer model and examines the empirical support for it using data from Decennial Censuses and Current Population surveys. While data from the 1940 and 1950 Censuses provide some support for Mincer’s model, data from later decades are inconsistent with it. We examine the importance of relaxing functional form assumptions in estimating internal rates of return to schooling and in accounting for taxes, tuition, nonlinearity in schooling, and nonseparability between schooling and work experience. Inferences about trends in rates of return to high school and college obtained from our more general model differ substantially from inferences drawn from estimates based on a Mincer earnings regression. Important differences also arise between cohort-based and cross-sectional estimates of the rate of return to school. In the recent period of rapid technological change, widely used cross-sectional applications of the Mincer model produce dramatically biased estimates of cohort returns to schooling. We also examine the implications of accounting for uncertainty and agent expectation formation. Even when the static framework of Mincer is maintained, accounting for uncertainty substantially affects rate of return estimates. Considering the sequential resolution of uncertainty over time in a dynamic setting gives rise to option values, which fundamentally changes the analysis of schooling decisions. In the presence of sequential resolution of uncertainty and option values, the internal rate of return - a cornerstone of classical human capital theory - is not a useful guide to policy analysis.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 775.

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Length: 75 pages
Date of creation: May 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp775

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Keywords: earnings regressions; Mincer model; returns to schooling;

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References

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  1. Jacob Mincer, 1958. "Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 281.
  2. Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling," NBER Working Papers 9055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1998. "Life Cycle Schooling and Dynamic Selection Bias: Models and Evidence for Five Cohorts of American Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 262-333, April.
  7. Willis, Robert J., 1987. "Wage determinants: A survey and reinterpretation of human capital earnings functions," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 10, pages 525-602 Elsevier.
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  11. Michael P. Keane & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1995. "The career decisions of young men," Working Papers 559, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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  20. Zvi Eckstein & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1999. "Why Youths Drop Out of High School: The Impact of Preferences, Opportunities, and Abilities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(6), pages 1295-1340, November.
  21. Carneiro, Pedro & Hansen, Karsten T. & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Estimating Distributions of Treatment Effects with an Application to the Returns to Schooling and Measurement of the Effects of Uncertainty on College Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 767, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  22. Comay, Yochanan & Melnik, A & Pollatschek, M A, 1973. "The Option Value of Education and the Optimal Path for Investment in Human Capital," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(2), pages 421-35, June.
  23. Paul Glewwe, 2002. "Schools and Skills in Developing Countries: Education Policies and Socioeconomic Outcomes," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 436-482, June.
  24. Murphy, Kevin M & Welch, Finis, 1990. "Empirical Age-Earnings Profiles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(2), pages 202-29, April.
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  26. Barro, Robert J & Sahasakul, Chaipat, 1983. "Measuring the Average Marginal Tax Rate from the Individual Income Tax," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(4), pages 419-52, October.
  27. Mincer, Jacob & Polachek, Solomon, 1974. "Family Investment in Human Capital: Earnings of Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S76-S108, Part II, .
  28. Weisbrod, Burton A, 1972. "Earnings Profile: Ability and Schooling: Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(3), pages S139-S41, Part II, .
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  31. Peter Gottschalk, 1997. "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 21-40, Spring.
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