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The Returns to Education: Macroeconomics


  • Barbara Sianesi
  • John Van Reenen


We offer an extensive summary and a critical discussion of the empirical literature on the impact of human capital on macro‐economic performance, with a particular focus on UK policy. We also highlight methodological issues and make recommendations for future research priorities. Taking the studies as a whole, the evidence that human capital increases productivity is compelling, though still largely divided on whether the stock of education affects the long‐run level or growth rate of GDP. A one‐year increase in average education is found to raise the level of output per capita by between three and six percent according to augmented neo‐classical specifications, while leading to an over one percentage point faster growth according to estimates from the new‐growth theories. Still, over the short‐run planning horizon (four years) the empirical estimates of the change in GDP are of similar orders of magnitude in the two approaches. The impact of increases at different levels of education appear to depend on the level of a country's development, with tertiary education being the most important for growth in OECD countries. Education is found to yield additional indirect benefits to growth. More preliminary evidence seems to indicate that type, quality and efficiency of education matter for growth too.

Suggested Citation

  • Barbara Sianesi & John Van Reenen, 2003. "The Returns to Education: Macroeconomics," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 17(2), pages 157-200, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jecsur:v:17:y:2003:i:2:p:157-200
    DOI: 10.1111/1467-6419.00192

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