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Education, earnings and skills: a multi-country comparison

  • Kevin Denny

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University College Dublin)

  • Colm Harmon
  • Vincent O'Sullivan

This paper uses the measures of basic skills (or functional literacy) in the International Adult Literacy Survey to examine the impact of education and basic skills on earnings across a large number of countries. We show that the estimated return to formal education is sensitive to the inclusion of these measures: excluding them biases the return to education upwards in many countries to a significant degree, usually 1 or 2 percentage points. In almost all countries, the test scores have a well-determined effect on earnings although there is considerable variation in the size of the effect. The highest returns to skills tend to be in English speaking countries. Comparing results across countries, the returns to education and the returns to basic skills are not correlated. The evidence suggests that there is considerable benefit in many countries for policy intervention to increase the skill levels of workers. This should not just be directed at dealing with low-skilled individuals – there are gains across the skills distribution.

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File URL: http://www.ifs.org.uk/wps/wp0408.pdf
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Paper provided by Institute for Fiscal Studies in its series IFS Working Papers with number W04/08.

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Length: 28 pp
Date of creation: Apr 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:04/08
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  1. Kevin Denny & Colm Harmon & Dorren McMahon & Sandra Redmond, 1999. "Literacy and Education in Ireland," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 30(3), pages 215-226.
  2. John Cawley & Karen Conneely & James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 1996. "Cognitive Ability, Wages, and Meritocracy," NBER Working Papers 5645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Colm Harmon & Hessel Oosterbeek & Ian Walker, 2003. "The Returns to Education: Microeconomics," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 17(2), pages 115-156, 04.
  4. Stewart, Mark B, 1983. "On Least Squares Estimation When the Dependent Variable Is Grouped," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(4), pages 737-53, October.
  5. Richard Blundell & Lorraine Dearden & Barbara Sianesi, 2004. "Evaluating the Impact of Education on Earnings in the UK: Models, Methods and Results from the NCDS," CEE Discussion Papers 0047, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
  6. Denny, Kevin & Harmon, Colm & Lydon, Raemonn, 2002. "Cross Country Evidence on the Returns to Education: Patterns and Explanations," CEPR Discussion Papers 3199, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Green, David A. & Craig Riddell, W., 2003. "Literacy and earnings: an investigation of the interaction of cognitive and unobserved skills in earnings generation," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 165-184, April.
  8. John Cawley & James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 1998. "Understanding the Role of Cognitive Ability in Accounting for the Recent Rise in the Economic Return to Education," NBER Working Papers 6388, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 1997. "Capital-skill complementarity and inequality: a macroeconomic analysis," Staff Report 239, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  10. William W. Gould & Jeffrey Pitblado & Brian Poi, 2010. "Maximum Likelihood Estimation with Stata," Stata Press books, StataCorp LP, edition 4, number ml4, November.
  11. McKinley L. Blackburn & David Neumark, 1991. "Omitted-Ability Bias and the Increase in the Return to Schooling," NBER Working Papers 3693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, 1992. "Quantitative Literacy and the Likelihood of Employment among Young Adults in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 27(2), pages 313-328.
  13. Boissiere, M & Knight, J B & Sabot, R H, 1985. "Earnings, Schooling, Ability, and Cognitive Skills," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(5), pages 1016-30, December.
  14. Griliches, Zvi, 1977. "Estimating the Returns to Schooling: Some Econometric Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(1), pages 1-22, January.
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