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A Labor-Income-Based Measure of the Value of Human Capital: An Application to the States of the United States

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  • Casey B. Mulligan
  • Xavier Sala-i-Martin

Abstract

We argue that a sensible measure of the aggregate value of human capital is the ratio of total labor income per capita to the wage of a person with zero years of schooling. The reason for that is that total labor income not only incorporates human capital, but also physical capital: given human capital, regions with higher physical capital will tend to have higher wages for all workers and, therefore, higher labor income. We find that one way to net out the effect of aggregate physical capital on labor income is to divide labor income by the wage of a zero-schooling worker. For the average U.S. state, our measure suggests that the value of human capital during the 1980s grew at a much larger rate than schooling. The reason has to do with movements in the relative productivities of the different workers: in some sense, some workers and some types of schooling became a lot more relevant in the 1980s and, as a result, measured human capital increased.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5018.

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Date of creation: Feb 1995
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Publication status: published as Japan and the World Economy, Vol 9, no. 2 (May 1997): 159-191.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5018

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  1. Barro, Robert J. & Lee, Jong-Wha, 1993. "International comparisons of educational attainment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 363-394, December.
  2. Robert J. Barro, 1989. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," NBER Working Papers 3120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Mulligan, Casey B & Sala-i-Martin, Xavier, 1993. "Transitional Dynamics in Two-Sector Models of Endogenous Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 739-73, August.
  4. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  5. Barro, R. & Mankiw, G., 1992. "Capital Mobility in Neoclassical Models of Growth," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1615, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  6. 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.
  7. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters, in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Heckman, James J, 1976. "A Life-Cycle Model of Earnings, Learning, and Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S11-44, August.
  9. Robert J. Barro & Jong-Wha Lee, 1993. "Losers and Winners in Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 4341, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  11. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, May.
  12. N. Gregory Mankiw & David Romer & David N. Weil, 1990. "A Contribution to the Empirics of Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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