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Education and Social Capital

  • John F. Helliwell
  • Robert D. Putnam

Education is usually the most important predictor of political and social engagement. Over the last half century, educational levels in the United States have risen sharply, yet levels of political and social participation have not. Norman Nie, Jane Junn, and Kenneth Stehlik-Barry (NJS-B) have offered an elegant resolution to this paradox based on a distinction between the relative education having positive effects on participation. Using a broad range of evidence, including the data used by NJS-B, this paper shows that increases in average education levels improve trust and do not reduce participation levels. The contrast with the NJS-B participation results is found to be due to the definition of the educational environment. We use a changing regional comparison group, theoretically preferable to NJS-B's static national measure. Our results point to a more optimistic conclusion about the consequences of increases in average education levels, while leaving open the puzzle of sluggish participation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7121.

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Date of creation: May 1999
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Publication status: published as John F. Helliwell & Robert D. Putnam, 2007. "Education and Social Capital," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 33(1), pages 1-19, Winter.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7121
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  1. Enrico Moretti, 2002. "Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," NBER Working Papers 9108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. John F. Helliwell & Robert D. Putnam, 2007. "Education and Social Capital," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 33(1), pages 1-19, Winter.
  3. Milligan, Kevin & Moretti, Enrico & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2004. "Does education improve citizenship? Evidence from the United States and the United Kingdom," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1667-1695, August.
  4. David Card, 2000. "Estimating the Return to Schooling: Progress on Some Persistent Econometric Problems," NBER Working Papers 7769, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kevin Milligan & Enrico Moretti & Philip Oreopoulos, 2003. "Does Education Improve Citizenship? Evidence from the U.S. and the U.K," NBER Working Papers 9584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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