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Policies to Create and Destroy Human Capital in Europe

  • James J. Heckman
  • Bas Jacobs

Trends in skill bias and greater turbulence in modern labor markets put wages and employment prospects of unskilled workers under pressure. Weak incentives to utilize and maintain skills over the life-cycle become manifest with the ageing of the population. Policies to promote human capital formation reduce welfare state dependency among the unskilled and offset inefficiencies in human capital formation. Skill formation features strong dynamic complementarities over the life-cycle. Investments in the human capital of children have higher returns than investments in the human capital of older workers. There is no trade-off between equity and efficiency at early ages of human development but there is a substantial trade-off at later ages. Later remediation of skill deficits acquired in early years often does not meet the cost-benefit criterion. Positive returns to active labor market and training policies are doubtful. Skill formation is impaired when the returns to skill formation are low due to low skill use and insufficient skill maintenance later on in life. High marginal tax rates and generous benefit systems reduce labor force participation rates and hours worked and thereby lower the utilization rate of human capital. Tax-benefit systems redistribute resources from outsiders to insiders in labor markets, which can be both distortionary and inequitable. Actuarially fairer early retirement and pension schemes reduce the incentives to retire early and strengthen incentives for human capital investment by increasing the time-horizon over which returns to human capital are harvested.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15742.

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Date of creation: Feb 2010
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Publication status: published as Heckman, James J., and Bas Jacobs (2011), "Policies to Create and Destroy Human Capital in Europe", in: Edmund Phelps and Hans-Werner Sinn (eds) (2011), Perspectives on the Performance on the Continent's Economies, Cambridge-MA: MIT-Press, 253-323.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15742
Note: ED LS PR
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  1. James J. Heckman & Paul LaFontaine, 2006. "Bias Corrected Estimates of GED Returns," NBER Working Papers 12018, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 411-482, July.
  3. Hilmer, Michael J., 1998. "Post-secondary fees and the decision to attend a university or a community college," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 329-348, March.
  4. Kane, Thomas J, 1994. "College Entry by Blacks since 1970: The Role of College Costs, Family Background, and the Returns to Education," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 878-911, October.
  5. Björklund, Anders & Lindahl, Mikael & Plug, Erik, 2005. "The Origins of Intergenerational Associations: Lessons from Swedish Adoption Data," IZA Discussion Papers 1739, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Heckman, James J, 1976. "A Life-Cycle Model of Earnings, Learning, and Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S11-44, August.
  7. Karsten Hansen & James J. Heckman & Kathleen J. Mullen, 2003. "The Effect of Schooling and Ability on Achievement Test Scores," NBER Working Papers 9881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Atkinson, A B, 2008. "The Changing Distribution of Earnings in OECD Countries," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199532438, June.
  9. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Social Security and Retirement around the World," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub99-1.
  10. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Introduction to "Social Security and Retirement around the World"," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security and Retirement around the World, pages 1-35 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
  12. Edward C. Prescott, 2004. "Why do Americans Work so Much More than Europeans?," NBER Working Papers 10316, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. James Heckman & Carmen Pages, 2003. "Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean," NBER Working Papers 10129, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J., 2007. "Identifying and Estimating the Distributions of Ex Post and Ex Ante Returns to Schooling," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(6), pages 870-893, December.
  15. Anthony B. Atkinson & Wiemer Salverda, 2005. "Top Incomes In The Netherlands And The United Kingdom Over The 20th Century," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(4), pages 883-913, 06.
  16. James J. Heckman & Carmen Pagés, 2004. "Introduction to "Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin American and the Caribbean"," NBER Chapters, in: Law and Employment: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean, pages 1-108 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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