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The Wages of Sinistrality: Handedness, Brain Structure, and Human Capital Accumulation

Listed author(s):
  • Joshua Goodman

Left- and right-handed individuals have different neurological wiring, particularly with regard to language processing. Multiple datasets from the United States and the United Kingdom show that lefties exhibit significant human capital deficits relative to righties. Lefties score 0.1 standard deviations lower on cognitive skill measures, have more behavioral problems, have more learning disabilities such as dyslexia, complete less schooling, and work in occupations requiring less cognitive skill. Most strikingly, lefties have 10-12 percent lower annual earnings than righties, much of which can be explained by observable differences in cognitive skills and behavioral problems. Lefties work in more manually intensive occupations than do righties, further suggesting their primary labor market disadvantage is cognitive rather then physical. I argue here that handedness can be used to explore the long-run impacts of differential brain structure generated in part by genetics and in part by poor infant health.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.28.4.193
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 28 (2014)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 193-212

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:4:p:193-212
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.4.193
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  1. Heckman, James J, 1995. "Lessons from the Bell Curve," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(5), pages 1091-1120, October.
  2. Kevin Denny & Vincent O'Sullivan, 2004. "The economic consequences of being left-handed : some sinister results (version 2.0)," Working Papers 200422, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  3. Johnston, David W. & Shah, Manisha & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Handedness, Time Use and Early Childhood Development," IZA Discussion Papers 2752, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Christopher S. Ruebeck & Joseph E. Harrington, Jr & Robert Moffitt, 1997. "Handedness and Earnings," Economics Working Paper Archive 533, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics, revised Jun 2004.
  5. Currie, Janet & Stabile, Mark, 2006. "Child mental health and human capital accumulation: The case of ADHD," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(6), pages 1094-1118, November.
  6. Carmit Segal, 2006. "Motivation, test scores and economic success," Economics Working Papers 1124, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2008.
  7. Janet Currie & Mark Stabile, 2009. "Appendix to "Mental Health in Childhood and Human Capital"," NBER Chapters,in: The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Douglas Almond & Janet Currie, 2011. "Killing Me Softly: The Fetal Origins Hypothesis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 153-172, Summer.
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