Victor Lavy, Avraham Ebenstein, Sefi Roth20 November 2014
Admission to higher education often depends on the results of high-stakes tests, but assessing the consequences of having a ‘bad day’ on such tests is challenging. This column provides evidence from a dataset on Israeli high-school students. Random variations in pollution have measurable effects on exam performance, and these in turn have significant effects on students’ future educational and labour-market outcomes. The authors argue that placing too much weight on high-stakes exams may not be consistent with meritocratic principles.
Although many countries use high-stakes testing to rank students for college admission, the consequences of this policy are largely unknown. Does having a particularly good or bad performance on a high-stakes examination have long-term consequences for test takers, after accounting for a student’s cognitive ability? Insofar as there are permanent wage consequences to variation induced by completely random shocks to student performance, it suggests that the use of high-stakes testing as a primary method for ranking students may be inefficient.
What about increasing unemployment benefits for the young?
Claudio Michelacci, Hernán Ruffo18 November 2014
Like any insurance mechanism, unemployment benefits involve a trade-off between risk sharing and moral hazard. Whereas previous studies have concluded that unemployment insurance is close to optimal in the US, this column argues that replacement rates should vary over the life cycle. Young people typically have little means to smooth consumption during a spell of unemployment, while the moral hazard problems are minor – regardless of replacement rates, the young want jobs to improve their lifetime career prospects and to build up human capital.
It is well known that workers suffer when they lose their job and experience an unemployment spell – surveys indicate a sharp decrease in happiness, and average consumption falls by around 20% upon job displacement. And much research has studied how to efficiently insure workers against the risk of unemployment. Like any other insurance mechanism, unemployment insurance involves a trade-off between the gains from providing liquidity and insurance to unemployed workers and the cost of the implicit problem of moral hazard.
Africa has generated a lot of enthusiasm lately. The cynical view of the continent as a hopeless basket case has been replaced by the lofty narrative of Africa Rising. This column argues that Africa’s progress is impressive, and there is more to the story than a commodity boom. But Africa is at a crossroads. The opportunities are huge, but the road ahead is long, and will require persistent and patient effort from policymakers as well as business.
Views on Africa’s growth prospects have jumped from utter pessimism to extreme enthusiasm. The latter has been centre-stage with the US–Africa Summit hosted in Washington DC from 4–6 August 2014, with the participation of top political and business leaders. My coauthors Todd Johnson and Shlomi Kramer and I have tried to take a sober assessment of Africa’s progress and prospects, looking beyond the current hype and the inevitable frustration that doing business in the region still generates (Annunziata et al. 2014).
Raphael Boleslavsky, Christopher Cotton16 August 2014
Grade inflation is widely viewed as detrimental, compromising the quality of education and reducing the information content of student transcripts for employers. This column argues that there may be benefits to allowing grade inflation when universities’ investment decisions are taken into account. With grade inflation, student transcripts convey less information, so employers rely less on transcripts and more on universities’ reputations. This incentivises universities to make costly investments to improve the quality of their education and the average ability of their graduates.
Since the early 1980s, the mean grade point average at American colleges and universities has risen at a rate of between 0.1 and 0.15 points per decade. Most of this increase can be attributed to an increase in the share of As assigned (which now comprise nearly half of all grades), with significant drops in the assignment of lower grades (Rojstaczer 2011 and Rojstaczer and Healy 2012).
Knowledge elites, enlightenment, and industrialisation
Nico Voigtländer, Mara Squicciarini13 July 2014
Although studies of contemporary economies find robust associations between human capital and growth, past research has found no link between worker skills and the onset of industrialisation. This column resolves the puzzle by focusing on the upper tail of the skill distribution, which is strongly associated with industrial development in 18th-century France.
Much has been written about the ‘knowledge economy’, and a large literature in economics has highlighted the importance of human capital for economic development in the modern world. Schooling is a strong predictor of per capita income and growth across countries – a pattern that emerges because skills facilitate technology adoption and innovation (Nelson and Phelps 1966, Benhabib and Spiegel 1994, Caselli and Coleman 2006). In contrast, the importance of human capital during the Industrial Revolution has typically been described as minor.
Human capital and income inequality: Some facts and some puzzles
Amparo Castelló-Climent, Rafael Doménech23 April 2014
Most developing countries have made a great effort to eradicate illiteracy. As a result, the inequality in the distribution of education has been reduced by more than half from 1950 to 2010. However, inequality in the distribution of income has hardly changed. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on human capital inequality. The authors find that increasing returns to education, globalisation, and skill-biased technological change can explain why the fall in human capital inequality has not been sufficient to reduce income inequality.
The rise of income inequality in many countries from 1985 onwards, and particularly during the recent crisis, has prompted a current debate on the causes and consequences of higher inequality and its effects on future growth (see, for example, OECD 2011, IMF 2014, or Ostry et al. 2014). As a result, and despite the slight reduction from 1960 to 1985, the average income Gini coefficient for developing countries was almost the same in 1960 (0.42) as it was in 2005 (0.41).
Marriage patterns have changed in the last 50 years as fertility rates declined and cohabitation became more widespread. These trends can be explained by a shift in the gains from marriage away from specialisation and towards investment in children. This column argues that different patterns in childrearing are key to understanding class differences in marriage and parenthood. Heterogeneity in preferences for – or ability to invest in – child human capital explain marriage and fertility patterns across socioeconomic groups.
The US has experienced dramatic changes in patterns of marriage, cohabitation, and childbearing since 1950. Non-marital births have increased from 4% of all births in 1950 to 41% in 2010, and a majority (52%) of non-marital births now occur within cohabiting unions (Manlove et al. 2010). Much of this change can be accounted for by a reduction in 'shotgun' marriages (Akerlof, Yellen, Katz, 1996).
Average income per capita is strongly correlated with more schooling, but this relationship is more complex than it appears. This column presents new research showing that a large part of the correlation is attributed to the causal effect of economic prosperity on the formation of human capital via schooling.
David Hummels, Rasmus Jørgensen, Jakob R. Munch, Chong Xiang
Countries’ average income per capita is strongly correlated with more schooling. This can be seen both by looking at the relationship between them across countries (Figure 1), and by considering their evolution over time in particular countries. For example, the percentage of the population in the US with at least a college degree rose from around 10% in the early 1960s to almost 30% in the early 2000s, while annual real GDP per capita in the same period grew from under $20,000 to over $40,0001.
Child health and the intergenerational transmission of human capital
Janet Currie19 July 2008
What explains the poverty trap? This column summarises a vast array of evidence on the relationship between parents’ socioeconomic status, children’s health, and children’s future socioeconomic outcomes. Poverty worsens childhood health, which leads to adulthood poverty. Focusing on young mothers’ health and wellbeing could break the cycle.
When economists think of “human capital,” they usually mean education. Investments in education pay off in the form of higher future earnings and many other positive outcomes. But what determines a child’s educational success?
Over the last century careers or jobs that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement have become more desirable for females and labour market conditions that impede the establishment of stable careers early in their lives like unemployment, temporary jobs or involuntary turnover, may be reasons for a delay or even a permanent reduction in fertility. The authors of CEPR DP6719 explore how women’s fertility decisions are affected by these considerations and find that certain stages of their careers might be particularly sensitive to labour supply interruptions.
Over the last century women’s role in the labour market has gradually changed from secondary workers with limited planning horizon to equivalent partners or independent decision makers with a life-time planning perspective. This means careers or jobs that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement have become more desirable for females and labour market conditions that impede the establishment of stable careers early in their lives like unemployment, temporary jobs or involuntary turnover, may be reasons for a delay or even a permanent reduction in fertility.
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