IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Measuring the option value of education


  • Rulof P Burger

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Francis J Teal

    () (Centre for Studies of African Economics, University of Oxford)


Many recent descriptive studies find convex schooling-earnings profiles in developing countries. In these countries forward-looking students should attach option values to completing lower levels of schooling. Another option value may arise due to the uncertain economic environment in which the sequence of enrolment decisions is made. Most theoretical models that are used to motivate and interpret OLS or IV estimates of the returns to schooling assume away convexity in the schooling-earnings profile, uncertainty and the inherently dynamic nature of schooling investment decisions. This paper develops a decomposition technique that calculates the relative importance of different benefits of completing additional schooling years, including the option values associated with convex schooling returns and uncertainty. These components are then estimated on a sample of workers who has revealed a highly convex schooling-earnings profile, and who face considerable uncertainty regarding future wage offers: young black South African men. We find that rationalising the observed school enrolment decisions requires large option values of early schooling levels (mainly associated with convexity rather than uncertainty), as well as a schooling cost function that increases steeply between schooling phases.

Suggested Citation

  • Rulof P Burger & Francis J Teal, 2013. "Measuring the option value of education," Working Papers 15/2013, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers191

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: First version, 2013
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James J. Heckman, 2010. "Building Bridges between Structural and Program Evaluation Approaches to Evaluating Policy," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(2), pages 356-398, June.
    2. Jacob Mincer, 1996. "Changes in Wage Inequality, 1970-1990," NBER Working Papers 5823, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Francis Teal, 2001. "Education, incomes, poverty and inequality in Ghana in the 1990s," CSAE Working Paper Series 2001-21, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    4. Nielsen, Helena Skyt & Westergard-Nielsen, Niels, 2001. "Returns to Schooling in Less Developed Countries: New Evidence from Zambia," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 365-394, January.
    5. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Introduction to "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings"," NBER Chapters,in: Schooling, Experience, and Earnings, pages 1-4 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. James J. Heckman & Lance J. Lochner & Petra E. Todd, 2008. "Earnings Functions and Rates of Return," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(1), pages 1-31.
    7. Siphambe, Happy Kufigwa, 2000. "Rates of return to education in Botswana," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 291-300, June.
    8. Francis Teal, 2001. "Education, incomes, poverty and inequality in Ghana in the 1990s," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/2001-21, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    9. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number minc74-1, January.
    10. Christian Belzil & Jörgen Hansen, 2002. "Unobserved Ability and the Return to Schooling," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(5), pages 2075-2091, September.
    11. Simon Appleton & John Hoddinott & John MacKinnon, 1996. "Education and health in sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(3), pages 307-339.
    12. Malcolm Keswell & Laura Poswell, 2004. "Returns To Education In South Africa: A Retrospective Sensitivity Analysis Of The Available Evidence," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 72(4), pages 834-860, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The cheapest way to fix South Africa’s education catastrophe
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2015-06-09 10:47:39

    More about this item


    Earnings Regressions; Returns to Schooling; Dynamic programming;

    JEL classification:

    • C31 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models; Quantile Regressions; Social Interaction Models
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers191. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Melt van Schoor). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.