Noam Angrist, Simeon Djankov, Pinelopi Goldberg, Harry Patrinos, 09 April 2021

Human capital is a critical component of economic development. But the links between growth and human capital – when measured by years of schooling – are weak. This column introduces a better measurement, using a database that directly measures learning and represents 98% of the global population. The authors find that the link between economic development and human capital is strong when measured in this way. They also show that global progress in learning has been limited over the past two decades, even as enrolment in primary and secondary education has increased.

Eric Hanushek, Lavinia Kinne, Philipp Lergetporer, Ludger Woessmann, 02 August 2020

Differences in student achievement are strongly related to both future individual earnings and national economic growth. Cultural traits that underlie intertemporal decision-making may affect how much students learn. Using data for close to two million students across 49 countries during 2000–2018, this column looks at levels of patience and risk-taking and its effect on student performance. A positive effect of patience and a negative effect of risk-taking can account for two-thirds of the cross-country variation in student achievement. Among migrant students, patience and risk-taking levels of the students’ countries of origin had remarkably similar effects on educational performance in the host country.

Liudmila Alekseeva, José Azar, Mireia Gine, Sampsa Samila, Bledi Taska, 03 May 2020

Artificial intelligence will transform job tasks and occupations. This column uses data from US online job postings during 2010–2019 to show how absolute and relative demand for AI-related skills has grown across all industry sectors and occupation groups. Jobs requiring AI skills command, on average, an 11% wage premium compared to similar jobs that do not require AI knowledge. However, AI is at least as much a managerial challenge as it is a technological challenge. Real productivity gains will come only when there are managers who can use AI to create and capture value.

Joel Mokyr, Assaf Sarid, Karine van der Beek, 30 January 2020

The consensus among economic historians has been that Britain’s leadership during the Industrial Revolution owed little to the school system. But recent work on human capital suggests that we should rethink this consensus on the role of human capital. This column shows how millwrights – highly skilled carpenters who specialised in constructing and repairing watermills – had a persistent effect on the mechanisation of textile- and iron-making and on the economic expansion that was taking place on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

Sascha O. Becker, Irena Grosfeld, Pauline Grosjean, Nico Voigtländer, Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 28 January 2020

Can the experience of being uprooted by force encourage people to invest in portable assets such as education? The idea has a long history but is a difficult hypothesis to test. This column combines data from historical censuses with newly collected survey data to show that Polish people with a family history of forced migration as a result of WWII are significantly more educated today than any comparison group. The results suggest a shift in preferences toward investment in human rather than physical capital, and imply that the benefits of providing schooling for forced migrants and their children may be even greater – and more persistent – than previously thought.

Thomas Keywood, Jörg Baten, 07 December 2019

Due to their lower standards of living, Eastern and Central Eastern Europe are losing their young, well-educated and energetic population to the West. The scarcity of data that reach far enough back in time makes it challenging to explain the longstanding East–West differences. This column explores the relationship of economic development with human capital – specifically, elite numeracy – and violence. It concludes that the absence of violence played a significant role in economic development through elite numeracy formation.

Michael Roach, Henry Sauermann, John D. Skrentny, 24 November 2019

The propensity of foreign STEM talent to found or join startups in the US is widely recognised but little understood. Using unique longitudinal data from over 5,600 STEM PhDs, this column reveals that during graduate school, foreign students exhibit more entrepreneurial personality traits and career preferences than their native peers. After graduation, however, they are less likely to found companies or work in startups. These results suggest that US immigration policies may deter newly minted PhDs from participating in entrepreneurship.

David Kunst, 09 August 2019

Has technological progress in manufacturing been skill-biased or deskilling? This column argues that the conventional distinction between white-collar and production workers has concealed substantial deskilling among manufacturing production workers since the 1950s. Automation has reduced the demand for skilled craftsmen around the world, thereby reducing the number of jobs in which workers with little formal education could acquire significant marketable skills.

Debora Revoltella, Philipp-Bastian Brutscher, Patricia Wruuck, 05 April 2019

Spending on education underpins the formation of human capital. But intra-EU labour mobility means that returns to such spending often accrue somewhere other than where the investment takes place, which can lead to sub-optimal levels of investment in countries that are subject to persistent outward migration. This column advocates for more intra-EU coordination on investment in education and proposes a novel mechanism for fostering more investment in human capital across the EU.

Alexandra de Pleijt, Alessandro Nuvolari, Jacob Weisdorf, 20 October 2018

While technological progress has typically been seen as increasing the demand for skilled workers since the beginning of the 20th century,  technological change has historically been associated with ‘de-skilling’. This column explores how the advent of the steam engine affected human capital formation in industrialising England. More steam engines per person are found to be associated with lower shares of unskilled workers. The results run contrary to the workshop-to-factory argument of skilled workers’ downward mobility, pointing instead to a farm work-to-factory transition. 

Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Callum Wilkie, 01 October 2018

Economically disadvantaged regions are, arguably by definition, less innovative than advantaged regions. But not all economically disadvantaged areas are the same. This column compares the innovative capacity of economically less-developed areas in North America and Europe, and reveals that less-developed regions in Canada and the US are far more innovative than their European counterparts. Key factors affecting innovation processes include the ability to absorb skilled young labour into the workforce and the types of knowledge flows that are capitalised upon. 

Tommaso Porzio, 12 August 2018

The share of the population employed in agriculture across the globe declined steeply over the second half of the 20thcentury. This coincided with an unprecedented increase in average years of schooling. This column explores whether these two trends are related. The results lend support to the idea that increased schooling led more workers to sort out of agricultural work. Whether reallocation out of agriculture has been beneficial for growth, however, remains to be seen.  

Thomas Cooley, Espen Henriksen, 11 June 2018

Demographic change represents an important contributing factor to the slowdown of long-run growth. This column explores some of the channels through which this occurs and how the effects of demographic change can be mitigated. Policies that target consumption-saving choices, labour-leisure choices, and human capital accumulation over the lifecycle are likely to be most effective.

Francesco Caselli, Antonio Ciccone, 09 June 2018

Contributions to the development accounting literature suggest that human capital plays only a modest role in explaining the large income gaps across the world. This column reviews some of these studies to assess the impact of the relative efficiency and relative supply of high- versus low-skilled workers in labour markets. It concludes that differences in skill premia across countries are not due to differences in human capital embodied in skilled workers, but rather to differences in country-specific technological and institutional environments.

Michele Battisti, Giovanni Peri, Agnese Romiti, 05 June 2018

Most of the evidence from studies analysing the effect of ethnic concentration on immigrants’ employment and earnings points to a positive effect of network size on labour market outcomes. This column uses data from social security records in Germany to show that a larger co-ethnic network in the location of first settlement can increase the short-run probability of finding a job but can also hinder human capital investment, limiting the benefits of the larger network over the long run.

Hans Hvide, Paul Oyer, 22 March 2018

The majority of male entrepreneurs in Norway start a firm in an industry closely related to the one in which their father is employed. These entrepreneurs outperform others in the same industry. This column uses longitudinal data to argue that 'dinner table human capital' – that is, industry knowledge learned through their parents – is an important factor. This form of capital also has effect on employee performance in the wider labour market.

Rikard Eriksson, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 08 August 2017

While job-related mobility is key to knowledge sharing, it may also undermine on-the-job training through labour poaching, and assessing its overall impact on productivity and growth is not straightforward. This column uses data on nearly 2.7 million new hires in Sweden to analyse the impact of labour mobility on plant performance. The greatest positive impact is seen in the country’s three largest cities, while firms in other large urban and university regions emerge as the biggest losers from job mobility.

Masayuki Morikawa, 06 July 2017

Given the early stages of diffusion of many AI and robotic technologies, it is too early to measure the impact of these innovations on jobs. This column uses comprehensive survey data from Japan to measure the extent to which workers across different industries, levels of education, and occupations perceive their jobs to be at risk. Workers with adaptable skills acquired through higher education (particularly in science and engineering) or occupation-specific skills (particularly those in human-intensive personal services) are less worried about their jobs being replaced by AI and robotics.

Randolph Bruno, Nauro Campos, Saul Estrin, 25 May 2017

The economic effects of foreign direct investment are generally expected to be positive for the host economy. However, this is usually conditional on certain thresholds of development being met, for instance in terms of human capital or institutional quality. This column argues that the economic impact of foreign direct investment is less ‘conditional’ than commonly thought, perhaps because below the thresholds, the difference between private and social returns is substantial, while above them it is smaller.

Rui Luo, 14 May 2017

While the impact of modern technological change on the skill premium has been well explained, there has been no study of the evolution of the skill premium over the very long run. This column reveals that the skill premium in Western Europe declined between 1300 and 1600, and converged to a low and stable level afterwards. Growth and technological change, while stimulating economic development and the transition from a pre-modern era to modern era, reduced wage inequality between different working groups.



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