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The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement

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This paper uses data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth cohorts (NLSY79 and NLSY97) to estimate changes in the effects of ability and family income on educational attainment for youth in their late teens during the early 1980s and early 2000s. Cognitive ability plays an important role in determining educational outcomes for both NLSY cohorts, while family income plays little role in determining high school completion in either cohort. Most interestingly, we document a dramatic increase in the effects of family income on college attendance (particularly among the least able) from the NLSY79 to the NLSY97. Family income has also become a much more important determinant of college 'quality' and hours/weeks worked during the academic year (the latter among the most able) in the NLSY97. Family income has little effect on college delay in either sample. To interpret our empirical findings on college attendance, we develop an educational choice model that incorporates both borrowing constraints and a 'consumption' value of schooling -- two of the most commonly invoked explanations for a positive family income -- schooling relationship. Without borrowing constraints, the model cannot explain the rising effects of family income on college attendance in response to the sharply rising costs and returns to college experienced from the early 1980s to early 2000s: the incentives created by a 'consumption' value of schooling imply that income should have become less important over time (or even negatively related to attendance). Instead, the data are more broadly consistent with the hypothesis that more youth are borrowing constrained today than were in the early 1980s.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity in its series University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity Working Papers with number 20081.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:uwo:hcuwoc:20081

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Postal: CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity, Social Science Centre, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5C2
Phone: 519-661-2111 Ext.85244
Web page: http://economics.uwo.ca/research/research_papers/cibc_workingpapers.html

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  1. Lance Lochner & Alexander Monge-Naranjo, 2002. "Human Capital Formation with Endogenous Credit Constraints," NBER Working Papers 8815, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. James Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explanations With A Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings With Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(1), pages 1-58, January.
  3. 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.
  4. Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner, 2008. "The Effect of Credit Constraints on the College Drop-Out Decision: A Direct Approach Using a New Panel Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2163-84, December.
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  7. Lisa Barrow & Cecilia Elena Rouse, 2005. "Do Returns to Schooling Differ by Race and Ethnicity?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 83-87, May.
  8. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2008. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity Working Papers 20081, University of Western Ontario, CIBC Centre for Human Capital and Productivity.
  9. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance John & Masterov, Dimitriy V., 2005. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," IZA Discussion Papers 1675, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Keane, Michael P & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 2001. "The Effect of Parental Transfers and Borrowing Constraints on Educational Attainment," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1051-1103, November.
  11. Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance John & Todd, Petra E., 2005. "Earnings Functions, Rates of Return and Treatment Effects: The Mincer Equation and Beyond," IZA Discussion Papers 1700, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  19. Michael P. Keane, 2002. "Financial Aid, Borrowing Constraints, and College Attendance: Evidence from Structural Estimates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 293-297, May.
  20. Dick Andrew W. & Edlin Aaron S. & Emch Eric R., 2003. "The Savings Impact of College Financial Aid," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 2(1), pages 1-31, June.
  21. Thomas J. Kane & Cecilia Elena Rouse, 1999. "The Community College: Educating Students at the Margin between College and Work," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 63-84, Winter.
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  23. Dynarski, Susan M. & Scott–Clayton, Judith E., 2006. "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(2), pages 319-56, June.
  24. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Dynamics of Educational Attainment for Black, Hispanic, and White Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 455-499, June.
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  26. Hartog,Joop & Maassen van den Brink,Henriëtte (ed.), 2007. "Human Capital," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521873161.
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