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Is Investing in College Education Risky?

Attending college seems to be a profitable and affordable investment in the US. Nevertheless, a number of academically talented young people still hesitate to attend college. This puzzle motivates this paper to test for whether college education is a risky investment. To measure the riskiness of college attendance, I estimate the risk differential in earnings between college attendees and high school graduates. This paper copes with selection bias problems and distinguishes permanent earnings risk from transitory earnings risks. Evidence indicates that investing in a four-year college education is indeed risky, suggesting that, under certain circumstances, the riskiness of college attendance is an important factor in the schooling choice.

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File URL: http://www.albany.edu/economics/research/workingp/2001/Risky.pdf
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Paper provided by University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers with number 01-09.

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Date of creation: 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nya:albaec:01-09
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Department of Economics, BA 110 University at Albany State University of New York Albany, NY 12222 U.S.A.

Phone: (518) 442-4735
Fax: (518) 442-4736

Order Information: Postal: Department of Economics, BA 110 University at Albany State University of New York Albany, NY 12222 U.S.A.
Web: http://www.albany.edu/economics/research/workingp/index.shtml Email:


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  1. Richard Blundell & Ian Preston, 1998. "Consumption Inequality and Income Uncertainty," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(2), pages 603-640.
  2. Ekaterini Kyriazidou, 1997. "Estimation of a Panel Data Sample Selection Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(6), pages 1335-1364, November.
  3. John Y. Campbell, 1995. "Understanding Risk and Return," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1711, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. Costas Meghir & Mårten Palme, 1999. "Assessing the effect of schooling on earnings using a social experiment," IFS Working Papers W99/10, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. Shea, John, 2000. "Does parents' money matter?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(2), pages 155-184, August.
  6. Thomas J. Kane, 1995. "Rising Public College Tuition and College Entry: How Well Do Public Subsidies Promote Access to College?," NBER Working Papers 5164, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Taber, Christopher R., 2000. "Semiparametric identification and heterogeneity in discrete choice dynamic programming models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 201-229, June.
  8. Blundell, Richard & M. Stoker, Thomas, 1999. "Consumption and the timing of income risk," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 475-507, March.
  9. Joseph G. Altonji, 1991. "The Demand for and Return to Education When Education Outcomes are Uncertain," NBER Working Papers 3714, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. 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.
  11. Olson, Lawrence & White, Halbert & Shefrin, H M, 1979. "Optimal Investment in Schooling when Incomes are Risky," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(3), pages 522-39, June.
  12. Angrist, Joshua D & Newey, Whitney K, 1991. "Over-Identification Tests in Earnings Functions with Fixed Effects," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 9(3), pages 317-23, July.
  13. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
  14. Levhari, David & Weiss, Yoram, 1974. "The Effect of Risk on the Investment in Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(6), pages 950-63, December.
  15. Orazio Attanasio & Steven J. Davis, 1994. "Relative Wage Movements and the Distribution of Consumption," NBER Working Papers 4771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Stephen Cameron & Christopher Taber, 2000. "Borrowing Constraints and the Returns to Schooling," NBER Working Papers 7761, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Weiss, Yoram, 1972. "The Risk Element in Occupational and Educational Choices," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(6), pages 1203-13, Nov.-Dec..
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