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.

Catherine Porter, 09 March 2021

Catherine Porter (Lancaster University) talks to Tim Phillips about her work on how the lives of adolescents in Low- and Middle- Income countries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn, using data from a large-scale phone survey conducted in four countries. Relative gains in the well-being of young people over the last twenty years or so have been lost in many cases and it is likely that the consequences of education dropout and links to potential mental health issues may mean the effects are long lasting in the absence of interventions to support young people’s wellbeing and livelihoods.
The paper behind this research is available for free download:
Young Lives, interrupted: Short-term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Adolescents in Low- and Middle-Income Countries by Marta Favara, Richard Freund, Catherine Porter, Alan Sánchez, Douglas Scott (CEPR Covid Economics Papers, 04/02/2021 )

Robert Ainsworth, Rajeev Dehejia, Cristian Pop-Eleches , Miguel Urquiola, 07 February 2021

While giving households the freedom to choose their children’s schools is said to improve educational outcomes, households do not always choose the option that would boost their child’s performance the most. This column uses an informational experiment in Romania to examine whether households simply lack information about the schools’ ‘value-added’ or prefer to prioritise other school traits. When informed about the value-added of the local schools, households assigned higher preference ranks to high value-added schools. However, the experiment also affected the preferences of the students, suggesting that both information limitations and preferences seem to matter in school choice.

Mikko Silliman, Hanna Virtanen, 30 January 2021

Policymakers are growing increasingly interested in the effects of vocational training on labour-market outcomes. This column uses a quasi-experimental design based on admissions cut-offs to secondary education in Finland to study the long-term effects of access to vocational education. Applicants near the admissions margin experience an average 6% increase in earnings in their mid-thirties if admitted to the vocational track. For students with a preference for the vocational track, failing to be admitted to the vocational track reduces employment in their mid-thirties by nearly 20%.

Pedro Carneiro, Italo Lopez Garcia, Kjell G. Salvanes, Emma Tominey, 24 January 2021

Parents’ income can affect a child’s earnings later in life but most empirical studies of intergenerational mobility collapse the childhood years into a single period. This column uses administrative data of all children born in Norway 1971–1980 to examine the relationship between adult outcomes of children and the timing of parental income over three periods of childhood: early (ages 0–5), middle (ages 6–11), and late (ages 12–17). Child success increases in households where parents’ income is higher in either early childhood or during adolescence. A balanced level of income across early childhood and adolescence may also improve the child’s success.

Stephen Machin, Sandra McNally, Camille Terrier, Guglielmo Ventura, 23 December 2020

England introduced University Technical Colleges – hybrid education institutions which combine general and vocational education – in 2010. This column presents the results from the first evaluation of the causal effect of attending such a college on student academic and vocational achievement, and on eventual labour market outcomes. While college enrolment can have positive effects on the probability of studying a STEM subject at university, the age that a student enrolls plays a key part in determining their overall attainment.

Ila Fazzio, Alex Eble, Robin Lumsdaine, Peter Boone, Baboucarr Bouy, Pei-tseng Jenny Hsieh, Chitra Jayanty, Simon Johnson, Filipa Silva, 16 December 2020

Achieving universal basic literacy and numeracy has long been a policy goal for development agencies working in areas of extreme poverty. This column presents evidence from a bundled intervention in rural Guinea Bissau which suggests that targeted education policies can have substantial positive effects on children’s schooling outcomes. Such policies could play a key role in helping people ‘escape’ the poverty trap, as the education gains from such interventions elevate local children’s attainment levels far beyond those found in neighbouring areas.

Anna McDougall, George Orlov, Douglas McKee, 10 December 2020

Many higher learning institutions have shifted to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although research has found that online classes can be just as effective as in-person classes, there is evidence that suggests disadvantaged students may perform relatively worse. This column compares student performance on a set of standard assessments at four PhD-granting institutions in the US before and after the switch to online classes. It finds little evidence that disadvantaged groups were further disadvantaged by the pandemic in their college learning. Instructor experience with online teaching and the use of active-learning techniques have a positive effect on student outcomes.

David McKenzie, Christopher Woodruff, 02 December 2020

Elisabeth Grewenig, Philipp Lergetporer, Katharina Werner, Ludger Woessmann, Larissa Zierow, 15 November 2020

A key feature of school closures is that there is no trained educator in the room to help. This column argues that low-achieving students are particularly affected by the lack of teacher support. Based on a German time-use survey, it finds that students on average reduced daily learning time by about half during the school closures. This reduction was significantly larger for low-achieving students, who disproportionately replaced learning time with activities deemed detrimental to child development such as computer gaming rather than with more conducive activities such as reading. 

Marta De Philippis, Federico Rossi, 03 November 2020

There is an abundance of evidence to show that differences in educational attainment play a major role in defining cross-country variations in economic outcomes. This column shows that these cross-country gaps go beyond differences in school quality and parents' socioeconomic background, and that country-specific cultural values, transmitted through parental practices, play an important role. This should inform policies that attempt to replicate the successes of higher-performing countries.

Jesse Bruhn, Scott A. Imberman, Marcus A. Winters, 01 November 2020

Charter schools in the US – publicly funded but independently operated schools of choice – are often criticised for competing with and harming the quality of surrounding traditional public schools. This column examines Massachusetts’s expansive and effective charter-school sector for the relationship between teacher quality and mobility. Charter schools retain fewer teachers compared to traditional public schools and the best teachers often move to the traditional public-school system. Charter schools may benefit traditional public schools by providing an alternative pathway for unlicensed teachers to enter the labour force and sorting those who are successful in to traditional public schools. 

Mark Colas, Sebastian Findeisen, Dominik Sachs, 31 October 2020

Need-based financial aid helps underprivileged students in the US attend university. This column combines theoretical and empirical analyses to determine the optimal level of that aid and finds that current aid packages in the US are significantly less need-based than they should be. Not only does need-based financial aid help to reduce inequality, it is also an investment in future tax revenue, making it an optimal subsidy from an efficiency standpoint. In this case, equity and efficiency go hand in hand.

William Cook, 21 October 2020

Though it is recognized that pupils whose schooling is being disrupted by Covid-19 are suffering immediate learning loss, there exists a lack of understanding as to how this disruption might affect longer-term educational outcomes. Will Cook (Manchester Metropolitan University) examines the effect of school disruption in England due to restrictions put in place to manage the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in cattle in 2001 and analyzes whether primary schools that had been significantly disrupted by the epidemic experienced lower performance in standardized tests for pupils aged 11 in the year of the outbreak and in subsequent years.  He explains to Tim Phillips that, although there certainly are falls in achievement immediately after disruption,  this effect fades over subsequent years.

Graziella Bertocchi, Monica Bozzano, 05 October 2020

For most of history, women have been undereducated relative to men. While the gender gap in education has closed – and even reversed – in recent times, sharp differences still exist across levels of education and countries. Even where women have outpaced men in educational attainment, gender gaps in employment, entrepreneurship and politics persist. Women are visibly underrepresented in STEM and economics – fields typically lead to higher employability and wages. This column reviews the historical roots of the gender gap, which, despite changing conditions and incentives, continue to exert an influence through labour markets, family formation dynamics, and cultural factors. 

Debopam Bhattacharya, Renata Rabovic, 15 September 2020

The balance between merit and diversity in university admissions is a controversial issue, but statistical analysis is challenging because applicant characteristics are only observed by admissions officers and post-entry test scores are only available for those who were admitted. This column uses a novel, outcome-based test of merit-based admissions at Cambridge University, where some applicants enter via a second-round clearing mechanism from a ‘pool’, to bypass the non-observability problems. The test reveals robust evidence of higher admissions standards for men in STEM and economics, and weak evidence of the same for private school applicants. The gender gap is non-evident in law and medicine.

Sofoklis Goulas, Rigissa Megalokonomou, 17 August 2020

During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, Greece eased its high school attendance policy despite few cases being reported among children of high school age. This column examines the relationship between the relaxed attendance policy and absences, academic performance, and neighbourhood income. Students of higher prior performance took more absences, while students of lower prior performance kept going to school. Prior performance is positively associated with neighbourhood income, suggesting that students in poorer neighbourhoods may be less likely to follow school distancing guidelines during a pandemic. The relaxed attendance policy is associated with decreased performance for students that take more absences.

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.

Chirantan Chatterjee, Eric Hanushek, Shreekanth Mahendiran, 23 July 2020

Expanding access to schools has been an important goal of development policy. This column studies the 2009 Right to Education Act in India intended to mandate compulsory and free access to schools for all children aged 6 to 14. It finds that the act led to an increase in the number of private tuition centres which partly crowded out the goal of more equal access to education as only children from wealthier households can afford private tuition.


Richard V. Burkhauser, Nicolas Hérault, Stephen P. Jenkins, Roger Wilkins, 21 July 2020

The share of total income held by those at the very top of the income distribution has been much analysed, but despite a rising share of women in the top 1% of the income distribution, less is known about the gender divide at the top. This column analyses gender differences among the UK top 1% between 1999 and 2015. The rising share of women in the top 1% is largely accounted for by women having increased the time they spend in full-time education by more than men did.



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