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Schooling, Intelligence, and Income in America: Cracks in the Bell Curve

Author

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  • Orley Ashenfelter
  • Cecilia Rouse

Abstract

One of the best documented relationships in economics is the link between education and income: higher educated people have higher incomes. Advocates argue that education provides skills, or human capital, that raises an individual's productivity. Critics argue that the documented relationship is not causal. Education does not generate higher incomes; instead, individuals with higher ability receive more education and more income. This essay reviews the evidence on the relationship between education and income. We focus on recent studies that have attempted to determine the causal effect of education on income by either comparing income and education differences within families or using exogenous determinants of schooling in what are sometimes called natural experiments.' In addition, we assess the potential for education to reduce income disparities by presenting evidence on the return to education for people of differing family backgrounds and measured ability. The results of all these studies are surprisingly consistent: they indicate that the return to schooling is not caused by an omitted correlation between ability and schooling. Moreover, we find no evidence that the return to schooling differs significantly by family background or by the measured ability of the student.

Suggested Citation

  • Orley Ashenfelter & Cecilia Rouse, 1999. "Schooling, Intelligence, and Income in America: Cracks in the Bell Curve," NBER Working Papers 6902, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6902
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    Cited by:

    1. Lucifora, Claudio & Comi, Simona & Brunello, Giorgio, 2000. "The Returns to Education in Italy: A New Look at the Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 130, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Raaum,O. & Aabo,T.E., 1999. "The effect of schooling on earnings : the role of family background studied by a large sample of Norwegian twins," Memorandum 16/1999, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    3. Oddbjørn Raaum & Tom Erik Aabø, 2000. "The Effect of Schooling on Earnings: Evidence on the role of family background from a large sample of Norwegian twins," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 26, pages 95-113.
    4. Cockx, Bart & Bardoulat, Isabelle, 1999. "Vocational Training: Does it speed up the Transition Rate out of Unemployment ?," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 1999032, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    5. Tullio Jappelli & Luigi Pistaferri, 2010. "Does Consumption Inequality Track Income Inequality in Italy?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 133-153, January.
    6. Lee, Min-Dong Paul, 2006. "Widening Gap of Educational Opportunity? A Longitudinal Study of Educational Inequality in China," WIDER Working Paper Series 066, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    7. Liang Zhao & Joyce P. Jacobsen, 2006. "Revisiting The Bell Curve Debate Regarding the Effects of Cognitive Ability on Wages," Wesleyan Economics Working Papers 2006-026, Wesleyan University, Department of Economics.
    8. Kevin Denny & Harmon, Harmon & Sandra Redmond, 2000. "Functional literacy, educational attainment and earnings - evidence from the international adult literacy survey," IFS Working Papers W00/09, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    9. Cockx, Bart, 2003. "Vocational Training of Unemployed Workers in Belgium," IZA Discussion Papers 682, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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