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Cognitive Ability, Wages, and Meritocracy

Author

Listed:
  • John Cawley
  • Karen Conneely
  • James Heckman
  • Edward Vytlacil

Abstract

This paper presents new evidence from the NLSY on the importance of meritocracy in American society. In it, we find that general intelligence, or g -- a measure of cognitive ability--is dominant in explaining test score variance. The weights assigned to tests by g are similar for all major demographic groups. These results support Spearman's theory of g. We also find that g and other measures of ability are not rewarded equally across race and gender, evidence against the view that the labor market is organized on meritocratic principles. Additional factors beyond g are required to explain wages and occupational choice. However, both blue collar and white collar wages are poorly predicted by g or even multiple measures of ability. Observed cognitive ability is only a minor predictor of social performance. White collar wages are more g loaded than blue collar wages. Many noncognitive factors determine blue collar wages.

Suggested Citation

  • John Cawley & Karen Conneely & James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 1996. "Cognitive Ability, Wages, and Meritocracy," NBER Working Papers 5645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5645 Note: LS
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5645.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Heckman, James & Singer, Burton, 1984. "A Method for Minimizing the Impact of Distributional Assumptions in Econometric Models for Duration Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(2), pages 271-320, March.
    2. Blackburn, McKinley L & Neumark, David, 1993. "Omitted-Ability Bias and the Increase in the Return to Schooling," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(3), pages 521-544, July.
    3. Jeff Grogger & Eric Eide, 1995. "Changes in College Skills and the Rise in the College Wage Premium," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 280-310.
    4. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-266, May.
    5. Heckman, James J, 1995. "Lessons from the Bell Curve," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(5), pages 1091-1120, October.
    6. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods

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