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The Schooling Quality-Earnings Relationship: Using Economic Theory to Interpret Functional Forms Consistent with the Evidence

  • James Heckman
  • Anne Layne-Farrar
  • Petra Todd

This paper investigates the economic and empirical foundations of the evidence relating earnings to schooling quality. We replicate the Card-Krueger model for Census years 1970, 1980 and 1990 and find that it consistently produces a strong relationship between schooling quality and the rate of return to schooling. We test key identifying assumptions used by Card and Krueger and others. Several assumptions are rejected. When they are relaxed, the evidence for a strong effect of schooling quality on earning is greatly weakened. A crucial identifying assumption is the absence of selective migration on the basis of earnings. Nonparametric tests strongly reject this hypothesis. The conventional assumption of linearity of the earnings- schooling relationship widely used in the literature is also rejected. The only surviving evidence of any schooling quality effect is in the return to college education. We also test and reject conventional efficiency unit models of the pricing of labor services. The empirically concordant model of earnings is a model of heterogeneous human capital in which regional shocks affect the prices of less- skilled labor.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5288.

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Date of creation: Oct 1995
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5288
Note: LS
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  1. James Heckman & Anne Layne-Farrar & Petra Todd, 1995. "Does Measured School Quality Really Matter? An Examination of the Earnings-Quality Relationship," NBER Working Papers 5274, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Hanushek, Eric A, 1986. "The Economics of Schooling: Production and Efficiency in Public Schools," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1141-77, September.
  3. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  4. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1990. "School Quality and Black/White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," Working Papers 652, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  5. George E. Johnson & Frank P. Stafford, 1973. "Social Returns to Quantity and Quality of Schooling," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(2), pages 139-155.
  6. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
  7. Jacob Mincer, 1958. "Investment in Human Capital and Personal Income Distribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 281.
  8. Hungerford, Thomas & Solon, Gary, 1987. "Sheepskin Effects in the Returns to Education," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(1), pages 175-77, February.
  9. Behrman, Jere R & Birdsall, Nancy, 1983. "The Quality of Schooling: Quantity Alone is Misleading," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 928-46, December.
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