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The effect of individual uncertainty on the specificity of human capital: empirical evidence from career developments in professional soccer


  • Steffen Merkel
  • Sascha L. Schmidt
  • Benno Torgler


This study looks at careers in professional soccer to investigate the determinants of human capital (HC) specificity. Inspired by labour market research, we formulate three hypotheses on how uncertainty about the usefulness of individuals’ (more productive) specific skills affects their investment in (more flexible) general skills. The empirical analysis is based on unique panel data on school grades, soccer evaluations, and sociodemographic characteristics of 90 elite players from the youth academy of a German Bundesliga club. We find that senior and long-serving players, who are comparably certain that their (soccer) specific capital will be sufficient to pursue a lucrative professional career, invest less in general HC at school. Expected soccer performance, in contrast, has a counterintuitive positive effect. Our results expand knowledge on the factors influencing HC specificity from the macro to the subject level and highlight practical implications for institutions that train gifted individuals.

Suggested Citation

  • Steffen Merkel & Sascha L. Schmidt & Benno Torgler, 2017. "The effect of individual uncertainty on the specificity of human capital: empirical evidence from career developments in professional soccer," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(21), pages 2083-2095, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:applec:v:49:y:2017:i:21:p:2083-2095
    DOI: 10.1080/00036846.2016.1231907

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