IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Unobserved Ability and the Return to Schooling

  • Belzil, Christian


    (Ecole Polytechnique, Paris)

  • Hansen, Jörgen


    (Concordia University)

We estimate a structural dynamic programming model of schooling decisions with unobserved heterogeneity in school ability and market ability on a sample taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Both the instantaneous utility of attending school and the wage regression function are estimated flexibly. The null hypothesis that the local returns to schooling are constant is strongly rejected in favor of a convex wage regression function composed of 8 spline segments. The local returns are very low until grade 11 (1% per year or less), increase to 3.7% in grade 12 and exceed 10% only from grade 14 to grade 16. The average return increases smoothly from 0.4% (grade 7) to 4.6% (grade 16). The convexity of the log wage regression function implies that those who obtain more schooling also experience higher average returns. We strongly reject the null hypothesis that unobserved market ability is uncorrelated with realized schooling attainments, which underlies many previous studies that have used OLS to estimate the return to schooling. The correlation between realized schooling and market ability is found to be positive and is consistent with the existence of a positive “Ability Bias”.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 508.

in new window

Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: May 2002
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Econometrica, 2002, 70 (2), 2078-2091
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp508
Contact details of provider: Postal: IZA, P.O. Box 7240, D-53072 Bonn, Germany
Phone: +49 228 3894 223
Fax: +49 228 3894 180
Web page:

Order Information: Postal: IZA, Margard Ody, P.O. Box 7240, D-53072 Bonn, Germany

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Charles F. Manski & John V. Pepper, 1998. "Monotone Instrumental Variables: With an Application to the Returns to Schooling," Virginia Economics Online Papers 308, University of Virginia, Department of Economics.
  2. Belzil, Christian & Hansen, Jörgen, 2002. "Unobserved Ability and the Return to Schooling," IZA Discussion Papers 508, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Rust, John, 1987. "Optimal Replacement of GMC Bus Engines: An Empirical Model of Harold Zurcher," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(5), pages 999-1033, September.
  4. Audrey Light & Wayne Strayer, 2000. "Determinants of College Completion: School Quality or Student Ability?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(2), pages 299-332.
  5. Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 1995. "The equity premium: it's still a puzzle," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 102, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. Michael P. Keane & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1995. "The career decisions of young men," Working Papers 559, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  7. Eckstein, Zvi & Wolpin, Kenneth, 1998. "Youth Employment and Academic Performance in High School," CEPR Discussion Papers 1861, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2002. "A Structural Analysis of the Correlated Random Coefficient Wage Regression Model," CIRANO Working Papers 2002s-07, CIRANO.
  9. Kenneth I. Wolpin & Mark R. Rosenzweig, 2000. "Natural "Natural Experiments" in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(4), pages 827-874, December.
  10. Whitney K. Newey & James L. Powell & Francis Vella, 1998. "Nonparametric Estimation of Triangular Simultaneous Equations Models," Working papers 98-6, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  11. James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 1998. "Instrumental Variables Methods for the Correlated Random Coefficient Model: Estimating the Average Rate of Return to Schooling When the Return is Correlated with Schooling," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 33(4), pages 974-987.
  12. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2001. "Heterogeneous Returns to Human Capital and Dynamic Self-Selection," CIRANO Working Papers 2001s-10, CIRANO.
  13. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2001. "Estimating the Intergenerational Education Correlation from a Dynamic Programming Model," CIRANO Working Papers 2001s-20, CIRANO.
  14. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
  15. Richard Blundell & James Powell, 2001. "Endogeneity in nonparametric and semiparametric regression models," CeMMAP working papers CWP09/01, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  16. Lang, Kevin, 1993. "Ability Bias, Discount Rate Bias and the Return to Education," MPRA Paper 24651, University Library of Munich, Germany.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp508. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mark Fallak)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.