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Where has all the education gone?

  • Pritchett, Lant

Cross-national data on economic growth rates show that increases in educational capital resulting from improvements in the educational attainment of the labor force have had no positive impact on the growth rate of output per worker. In fact, contends the author, the estimated impact of growth of human capital on conventional nonregression growth accounting measures of total factor productivity is large, strongly significant, and negative. Needless to say, this at least appears to contradict the current conventional wisdom in development circles about education's importance for growth. After establishing that this negative result about the education-growth linkage is robust, credible, and consistent with previous literature, the author explores three possible explanations that reconcile the abundant evidence about wage gains from schooling for individuals with the lack of schooling impact on aggregate growth: 1) that schooling creates no human capital. Schooling may not actually raise cognitive skills or productivity but schooling may nevertheless raise the private wage because to employers it signals a positive characteristic like ambition or innate ability; 2) that the marginal returns toeducation are falling rapidly where demand for educated labor is stagnant. Expanding the supply of educated labor where there is stagnant demand for it causes the rate of return to education to fall rapidly, particularly where the sluggish demand is due to limited adoption of innovations; and 3) that the institutional environments in many countries have been sufficiently perverse that the human capital accumulated has been applied to activities that served to reduce economic growth. In other words, possibly education does raise productivity, and there is demand for this more productive educated labor, but demand for educated labor comes from individually remunerative but socially wasteful or counterproductive activities - a bloated bureaucracy, for example, or overmanned state enterprises in countries where the government is the employer of last resort - so that while individuals'wages go up with education, output stagnates, or even falls.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1581.

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Date of creation: 31 Mar 1996
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1581
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  1. Eric A. Hanushek, . "Interpreting Recent Research on Schooling in Developing Countries," Wallis Working Papers WP3, University of Rochester - Wallis Institute of Political Economy.
  2. Schultz, T. Paul, 1988. "Education investments and returns," Handbook of Development Economics, in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.), Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 13, pages 543-630 Elsevier.
  3. Ashenfelter, Orley & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Estimates of the Economic Returns to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1157-73, December.
  4. J. Bradford De Long & Lawrence H. Summers, . "Equipment Investment and Economic Growth," J. Bradford De Long's Working Papers _122, University of California at Berkeley, Economics Department.
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  6. Murphy, Kevin M & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1991. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(2), pages 503-30, May.
  7. Azariadis, Costas & Drazen, Allan, 1990. "Threshold Externalities in Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 501-26, May.
  8. Behrman, Jere R & Birdsall, Nancy, 1983. "The Quality of Schooling: Quantity Alone is Misleading," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 928-46, December.
  9. Mark M. Spiegel, 1994. "Determinants of long-run labor productivity growth: a selective survey with some new empirical results," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 94-17, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  10. Gersovitz, Mark & Paxson, Christina H, 1996. "The Revenues and Expenditures of African Governments: Modalities and Consequences," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 5(2), pages 199-227, June.
  11. Barro, R.J., 1989. "Economic Growth In A Cross Section Of Countries," RCER Working Papers 201, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  12. Behrman, Jere R. & Rosenzweig, Mark R., 1994. "Caveat emptor: Cross-country data on education and the labor force," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 147-171, June.
  13. Weale, Martin, 1992. "Education, externalities, fertility, and economic growth," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1039, The World Bank.
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  16. William Easterly & Michael Kremer & Lant Pritchett & Lawrence H. Summers, 1993. "Good Policy or Good Luck? Country Growth Performance and Temporary Shocks," NBER Working Papers 4474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Hanushek, Eric A, 1986. "The Economics of Schooling: Production and Efficiency in Public Schools," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1141-77, September.
  18. Benhabib, Jess & Spiegel, Mark M., 1994. "The role of human capital in economic development evidence from aggregate cross-country data," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 143-173, October.
  19. Buchinsky, Moshe, 1994. "Changes in the U.S. Wage Structure 1963-1987: Application of Quantile Regression," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 405-58, March.
  20. Barro, Robert J. & Lee, Jong-Wha, 1993. "International comparisons of educational attainment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 363-394, December.
  21. Behrman, Jere R & Rosenzweig, Mark R & Taubman, Paul, 1994. "Endowments and the Allocation of Schooling in the Family and in the Marriage Market: The Twins Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(6), pages 1131-74, December.
  22. Sala-i-Martin, X. & Mulligan, C.B., 1994. "A Labor-Income-Based Measure of the Value of Human Capital : An Application to the United States," Papers 722, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  23. Spence, Michael, 1976. "Competition in Salaries, Credentials, and Signaling Prerequisites for Jobs," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(1), pages 51-74, February.
  24. Dasgupta, Partha & Weale, Martin, 1992. "On measuring the quality of life," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 119-131, January.
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