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Vive la revolution! Long term returns of 1968 to the angry students

  • Eric Maurin
  • Sandra McNally

The student revolt of May 1968 led to chaos across France, temporarily shaking the economic and political establishment. The crisis was unanticipated, unpredictable and short-lived. The famous events coincided with the period in which examinations are undertaken. In the university context, exams became a central aspect of the bargaining process between students and the authorities with the former successfully bargaining for ‘light-touch’ exams ‘to avoid harming students who have spent a lot of time struggling for a better university’. The general chaos and student lobbying led to the abandonment of normal exam procedures throughout the higher education system. For example, the important examination taken for the baccalauréat (success at which guarantees entry to university) only involved oral tests. As a result, the pass rate for various qualifications increased enormously in that one year. We show that the lowering of thresholds had important consequences for students at an early (and highly selective) stage of the higher education system. The events enabled a significant proportion of students born between 1947 and 1950 (particularly in 1948 and 1949) to pursue more years of higher education than would otherwise have been possible. We compare outcomes for cohorts affected by the relaxation of the examinations with cohorts that were too young or too old at this time. There is a wage premium of 2-3 per cent for the most affected cohorts and an increased probability of achieving a high-status occupational position. We also show that persons from a middle-class family background were more likely to be among the ‘marginal students’, and hence those for whom the effects of easier examinations are particularly evident. Finally, we show that returns were transmitted to the next generation on account of the relationship between parental education and that of their children. One can use these ‘1968 events’ as a ‘natural experiment’ to identify the causal effect of higher education. We contribute to two important debates within the economics of education literature: What is the true causal impact of education on labour market outcomes such as the wage? Is there a causal relationship between the education of parents and that of their children? Unlike all other papers in this literature, the intervention considered here (i.e. the alteration of exams as a consequence of May 1968) is ‘one-off’ and temporary – it has no consequences for cohorts coming after the 1968 events; the incentive structure of the education system is unchanged. Furthermore, the focus of our paper is on the returns to higher education. In contrast most other papers using a similar identification strategy focus on interventions which affect years of compulsory schooling. The treatment group considered here is on the margin of the higher education system. This study is an important historic example of where thresholds were lowered at critical stages of the higher education system, enabling those on the margin either to enter university or pursue further years of higher education. This is of strong contemporary relevance in many countries where there is a big debate about widening access to higher education. Our study shows evidence of high private returns to an additional year of education for the marginal university entrant. The wage returns to an additional year of education are about 14 per cent. This is close to the maximum reported in studies looking at the effects of increasing the compulsory school-leaving age. There is a very strong causal relationship between parental education and that of their children. Hence, interventions leading to additional years of education can have long-term consequences for the stock of human capital in the economy.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3656/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 3656.

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Length: 44 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:3656
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  1. Jo Blanden & Alissa Goodman & Paul Gregg & Stephen Machin, 2002. "Changes in Intergenerational Mobility in Britain," CEE Discussion Papers 0026, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  2. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2005. "Why the Apple Doesn't Fall Far: Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 437-449, March.
  3. Joshua D. Angrist & Alan B. Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," NBER Working Papers 3572, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Lorraine Dearden, 1999. "Qualifications and earnings in Britain: how reliable are conventional OLS estimates of the returns to education?," IFS Working Papers W99/07, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. Arnaud Chevalier, 2004. "Parental Education and Child’s Education - A Natural Experiment," Working Papers 200414, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  6. Harmon, Colm & Walker, Ian, 1995. "Estimates of the Economic Return to Schooling for the United Kingdom," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1278-86, December.
  7. Card, David, 2001. "Estimating the Return to Schooling: Progress on Some Persistent Econometric Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(5), pages 1127-60, September.
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