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Beyond Signaling and Human Capital: Education and the Revelation of Ability


  • Patrick J. Bayer
  • Peter Arcidiacono
  • Aurel Hizmo


We provide evidence that graduating from college plays a direct role in revealing ability to the labor market. Using the NLSY79, our results suggest that ability is observed nearly perfectly for college graduates. In contrast, returns to AFQT for high school graduates are initially very close to zero and rise steeply with experience. As a result, from the very beginning of their careers, college graduates are paid in accordance with their own ability, while the wages of high school graduates are initially unrelated to their own ability. This view of ability revelation in the labor market has considerable power in explaining racial differences in wages, education, and the returns to ability.

Suggested Citation

  • Patrick J. Bayer & Peter Arcidiacono & Aurel Hizmo, 2010. "Beyond Signaling and Human Capital: Education and the Revelation of Ability," Working Papers 10-51, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:duk:dukeec:10-51

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Galindo-Rueda, Fernando, 2003. "Employer learning and schooling-related statistical discrimination in Britain," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19491, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Introduction to "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings"," NBER Chapters,in: Schooling, Experience, and Earnings, pages 1-4 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Julian R. Betts & Darlene Morell, 1999. "The Determinants of Undergraduate Grade Point Average: The Relative Importance of Family Background, High School Resources, and Peer Group Effects," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(2), pages 268-293.
    4. Bauer, Thomas K. & Haisken-DeNew, John P., 2001. "Employer learning and the returns to schooling," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 161-180, May.
    5. Peter Arcidiacono, 2005. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education: How Do Admission and Financial Aid Rules Affect Future Earnings?," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(5), pages 1477-1524, September.
    6. Peter Arcidiacono & Patrick Bayer & Aurel Hizmo, 2010. "Beyond Signaling and Human Capital: Education and the Revelation of Ability," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 76-104, October.
    7. Hanming Fang, 2006. "Disentangling The College Wage Premium: Estimating A Model With Endogenous Education Choices," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 47(4), pages 1151-1185, November.
    8. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number minc74-1, January.
    9. Lang, Kevin, 1994. "Does the Human-Capital/Educational-Sorting Debate Matter for Development Policy?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 353-358, March.
    10. Derek Neal, 2004. "The Measured Black-White Wage Gap among Women Is Too Small," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages 1-28, February.
    11. David Bjerk, 2007. "The Differing Nature of Black-White Wage Inequality Across Occupational Sectors," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(2).
    12. Bishop, John H. & Mane, Ferran, 2001. "The impacts of minimum competency exam graduation requirements on high school graduation, college attendance and early labor market success," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 203-222, May.
    13. Ashenfelter, Orley & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Estimates of the Economic Returns to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1157-1173, December.
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    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination


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