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The Effect of Schooling on Cognitive Skills

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  • Magnus Carlsson
  • Gordon B. Dahl
  • Dan-Olof Rooth

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18484.

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Date of creation: Oct 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18484

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References

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  1. Fertig, Michael & Kluve, Jochen, 2005. "The Effect of Age at School Entry on Educational Attainment in Germany," IZA Discussion Papers 1507, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Joshua Angrist & Alan Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," Working Papers 653, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  3. Justin McCrary & Heather Royer, 2011. "The Effect of Female Education on Fertility and Infant Health: Evidence from School Entry Policies Using Exact Date of Birth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(1), pages 158-95, February.
  4. 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.
  5. Datar, Ashlesha, 2006. "Does delaying kindergarten entrance give children a head start?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 43-62, February.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Erik Lindqvist & Roine Vestman, 2011. "The Labor Market Returns to Cognitive and Noncognitive Ability: Evidence from the Swedish Enlistment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 101-28, January.
  9. Cawley, John & Heckman, James & Vytlacil, Edward, 2001. "Three observations on wages and measured cognitive ability," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 419-442, September.
  10. Patrick Puhani & Andrea Weber, 2007. "Does the early bird catch the worm?," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 359-386, May.
  11. Kasey Buckles & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2008. "Season of Birth and Later Outcomes: Old Questions, New Answers," NBER Working Papers 14573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Dobkin, Carlos & Ferreira, Fernando, 2010. "Do school entry laws affect educational attainment and labor market outcomes?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 40-54, February.
  13. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
  14. 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.
  15. Hausman, Jerry A, 1978. "Specification Tests in Econometrics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 46(6), pages 1251-71, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Joshua Goodman, 2014. "Flaking Out: Student Absences and Snow Days as Disruptions of Instructional Time," NBER Working Papers 20221, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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).
  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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