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Ability, parental background and educational policy: empirical evidence from a social experiment


  • Costas Meghir

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Yale University)

  • Mårten Palme

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University of Stockholm)


Following the great expansion of secondary education in the United States between 1910 and 1940, Sweden was one of the first Western European countries to attempt such an expansion by increasing the years of compulsory schooling and and improving access to academic type education by abolishing early selection. The reform was preceded by a large-scale area based social experiment where 25% of the country's municipalities were assigned to the reform. We use this assignment, together with rich individual data to evaluate this major educational intervention. Our key findings are that this reform increased the educational attainment of individuals with unskilled fathers. In addition it caused significant and large increases in the earnings of those with unskilled fathers and above median ability.

Suggested Citation

  • Costas Meghir & Mårten Palme, 2003. "Ability, parental background and educational policy: empirical evidence from a social experiment," IFS Working Papers W03/05, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:03/05

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Yuxin Li & Karen Mumford, "undated". "Aspirations, Expectations and Education Outcomes for Children in Britain: Considering Relative Measures of Family Efficiency," Discussion Papers 09/26, Department of Economics, University of York.
    2. Pekkarinen, Tuomas, 2005. "Gender Differences in Educational Attainment: Evidence on the Role of the Tracking Age from a Finnish Quasi-Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 1897, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Leigh, Andrew & Ryan, Chris, 2008. "Estimating returns to education using different natural experiment techniques," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 149-160, April.
    4. Martin Nordin, 2008. "Ability and rates of return to schooling—making use of the Swedish enlistment battery test," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 21(3), pages 703-717, July.
    5. Helena Holmlund & Mikael Lindahl & Erik Plug, 2011. "The Causal Effect of Parents' Schooling on Children's Schooling: A Comparison of Estimation Methods," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(3), pages 615-651, September.
    6. Aakvik, Arild & Salvanes, Kjell G & Vaage, Kjell, 2003. "Measuring Heterogeneity in the Returns to Education in Norway Using Educational Reforms," CEPR Discussion Papers 4088, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Oosterbeek, Hessel & Webbink, Dinand, 2007. "Wage effects of an extra year of basic vocational education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 408-419, August.
    8. Galindo-Rueda, Fernando & Vignoles, Anna, 2004. "The Heterogeneous Effect of Selection in Secondary Schools: Understanding the Changing Role of Ability," IZA Discussion Papers 1245, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. 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.
    10. Raaum, Oddbjørn & Salvanes, Kjell G. & Sørensen, Erik Ø., 2003. "The Impact of a Primary School Reform on Educational Stratification: A Norwegian Study of Neighbour and School Mate Correlations," IZA Discussion Papers 953, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Karin Monstad & Carol Propper & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2008. "Education and Fertility: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(4), pages 827-852, December.
    12. Meghir, Costas & Palme, Mårten & Schnabel, Marieke, 2011. "The Effect of Education Policy on Crime: An Intergenerational Perspective," IZA Discussion Papers 6142, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2004. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High? The Effect of Compulsory Schooling Laws on Teenage Births," IZA Discussion Papers 1416, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    14. Karin Monstad & Carol Propper & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2011. "Is teenage motherhood contagious? Evidence from a Natural Experiment," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 11/262, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    15. Milligan, Kevin & Moretti, Enrico & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2004. "Does education improve citizenship? Evidence from the United States and the United Kingdom," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1667-1695, August.
    16. Costas Meghir & Mårten Palme, 2005. "Educational Reform, Ability, and Family Background," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 414-424, March.
    17. Black, Sandra & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G, 2003. "Why the Apple Doesn't Fall: Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," CEPR Discussion Papers 4150, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    18. Palme, Mårten & Simeonova, Emilia, 2015. "Does women's education affect breast cancer risk and survival? Evidence from a population based social experiment in education," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 115-124.

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