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The Causal Effect of Education on Wages Revisited

  • Matt Dickson


This paper estimates the return to education using two alternative instrumental variable estimators: one exploits variation in schooling associated with early smoking behaviour, the other uses the raising of the minimum school leaving age. Each instrument estimates a ‘local average treatment effect’ and my motivation is to analyse the extent to which these differ and which is more appropriate for drawing conclusions about the return to education in Britain. I implement each instrument on the same data from the British Household Panel Survey, and use the over-identification to test the validity of my instruments. I find that the instrument constructed using early smoking behaviour is valid as well as being strong, and argue that it provides a better estimate of the average effect of additional education, akin to ordinary least squares but corrected for endogeneity. I also exploit the dual sources of exogenous variation in schooling to derive a further IV estimate of the return to schooling. I find the OLS estimate to be considerably downward biased (around 4.6%) compared with the IV estimates of 12.9% (early smoking), 10.2% (RoSLA) and 12.5% (both instruments).

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK in its series The Centre for Market and Public Organisation with number 09/220.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:09/220
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  1. Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post--secondary Schooling," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 705-734, October.
  2. Lang, Kevin, 1993. "Ability Bias, Discount Rate Bias and the Return to Education," MPRA Paper 24651, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Christopher F Baum & Mark E. Schaffer & Steven Stillman, 2007. "Enhanced routines for instrumental variables/GMM estimation and testing," CERT Discussion Papers 0706, Centre for Economic Reform and Transformation, Heriot Watt University.
  4. Fersterer, Josef & Winter-Ebmer, Rudolf, 2000. "Smoking, Discount Rates, and Returns to Education," IZA Discussion Papers 126, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
  6. Park, Jin Heum, 1999. "Estimation of sheepskin effects using the old and the new measures of educational attainment in the Current Population Survey," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 237-240, February.
  7. Haroon Chowdry & Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Alissa Goodman & Anna Vignoles, 2010. "Widening participation in higher education: analysis using linked administrative data," IFS Working Papers W10/04, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  8. Harmon, Colm & Walker, Ian, 2000. "The Returns to the Quantity and Quality of Education: Evidence for Men in England and Wales," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 67(265), pages 19-35, February.
  9. Arnaud Chevalier & Colm Harmon & Ian Walker & Yu Zhu, 2004. "Does Education Raise Productivity, or Just Reflect it?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(499), pages F499-F517, November.
  10. John Bound & David A. Jaeger, 1996. "On the Validity of Season of Birth as an Instrument in Wage Equations: A Comment on Angrist & Krueger's "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Scho," NBER Working Papers 5835, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Farrell, Phillip & Fuchs, Victor R. & Fuchs, Victor R., 1982. "Schooling and health : The cigarette connection," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 217-230, December.
  12. James H. Stock & Motohiro Yogo, 2002. "Testing for Weak Instruments in Linear IV Regression," NBER Technical Working Papers 0284, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Michael P. Murray, 2006. "Avoiding Invalid Instruments and Coping with Weak Instruments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(4), pages 111-132, Fall.
  14. Harmon, C & Ian Walker, 1995. "Estimates of the economic return to schooling for the UK," IFS Working Papers W95/12, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  15. Joshua Angrist & Alan Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," Working Papers 653, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  16. Kling, Jeffrey R, 2001. "Interpreting Instrumental Variables Estimates of the Returns to Schooling," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 19(3), pages 358-64, July.
  17. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1994. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," NBER Technical Working Papers 0151, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Lalith Munasinghe & Nachum Sicherman, 2000. "Why Do Dancers Smoke? Time Preference, Occupational Choice, and Wage Growth," NBER Working Papers 7542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. John Bound & David A. Jaeger & Regina Baker, 1993. "The Cure Can Be Worse than the Disease: A Cautionary Tale Regarding Instrumental Variables," NBER Technical Working Papers 0137, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Griliches, Zvi, 1977. "Estimating the Returns to Schooling: Some Econometric Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(1), pages 1-22, January.
  21. Lorraine Dearden & Emla Fitzsimons & Gill Wyness, 2011. "The impact of tuition fees and support on university participation in the UK," IFS Working Papers W11/17, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  22. David Card, 1994. "Earnings, Schooling, and Ability Revisited," Working Papers 710, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  23. Harmon, Colm & Walker, Ian, 1999. "The marginal and average returns to schooling in the UK," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 879-887, April.
  24. Philip Oreopoulos, 2006. "Estimating Average and Local Average Treatment Effects of Education when Compulsory Schooling Laws Really Matter," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 152-175, March.
  25. Uusitalo, Roope, 1999. "Return to education in Finland," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 569-580, November.
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