At the core of the debate over the value of college is a collage of evidence showing that it produces better lifetime outcomes not just in income but in health and happiness. How does this happen? And how can we be sure that we aren’t just seeing a selection bias — i.e., that people who go to college would have been richer, healthier, and happier in any case?
Here’s a new working paper (abstract; PDF), by Kasey Buckles, Andreas Hagemann, Ofer Malamud, Melinda Morrill, and Abigail Wozniak which purports to show the long-term health effects of a college education. Granted, their data stretches back to the Vietnam War draft (a good instrumental variable, which other researchers have used) but their findings are significant nonetheless.
We exploit exogenous variation in college completion induced by draft-avoidance behavior during the Vietnam War to examine the impact of college completion on adult mortality. Our preferred estimates imply that increasing college completion rates from the level of the state with the lowest induced rate to the highest would decrease
cumulative mortality by 28 percent relative to the mean. Most of the reduction in mortality is from deaths due to cancer and heart disease. We also explore potential mechanisms, including differential earnings, health insurance, and health behaviors, using data from the Census, ACS, and NHIS.
Differential earnings and health insurance are of course related to the income boost that college graduates receive. It is the “health behaviors” that are learned/adopted by college graduates that are especially interesting.
We’ve discussed before — in blog posts and a podcast — the value of a college degree. Writing for the New York Times Economix blog, Catherine Rampell points out that college degrees are particularly valuable in the U.S. “According to a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, across the developed world the average person who has graduated from college (either two-year or four-year) and has any earnings makes about 57 percent more than a counterpart with no more than a high school education,” writes Rampell. “In the United States, the comparable earnings premium is 77 percent.”
Despite the value of a college degree in the U.S., college graduation rates in the U.S. are increasing at a much slower pace than in other rich countries. And, as Rampell points out, it’s not just individuals in the U.S. that benefit from a college degree: “[T]he average return to taxpayers [of tertiary education for the average man] is $230,722 in the United States, versus less than half that, $104,737, across the developed world.”
Also: Oregon is thinking about letting students pay no college tuition, instead pledging a share of their future earnings. Lest you think this is straight out of Portlandia (like this is), know that Australia runs a similar college-tuition program.
If you are the sort of person who worries that the U.S. is not producing enough college graduates with science degrees, it’s worth wondering exactly why that is. In a new working paper, Ralph Stinebrickner and Todd R. Stinebrickner offer a compelling answer: science is hard. Here’s the abstract (sorry, full paper seems to be gated).
Taking advantage of unique longitudinal data, we provide the first characterization of what college students believe at the time of entrance about their final major, relate these beliefs to actual major outcomes, and, provide an understanding of why students hold the initial beliefs about majors that they do. The data collection and analysis are based directly on a conceptual model in which a student’s final major is best viewed as the end result of a learning process. We find that students enter school quite optimistic/interested about obtaining a science degree, but that relatively few students end up graduating with a science degree. The substantial overoptimism about completing a degree in science can be attributed largely to students beginning school with misperceptions about their ability to perform well academically in science.
Do we file this item under “overconfidence” or “good gatekeeping”?
1. Six female scientists who didn’t get their due.
2. Why kids in France don’t get ADHD.
3. When averages don’t tell the story: the U.S. has many of the world’s brightest students, and also a lot of low-scoring students.
4. Reverse colonialism: high unemployment at home drives Spanish youth to Latin America.
5. The psychology of hoarding. Read More »
A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes. Here’s the abstract:
We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.
Our latest podcast, “Crowded at the Top,” presents a surprising explanation for why the U.S. unemployment rate is still relatively high. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
It features a conversation with the University of British Columbia economist Paul Beaudry, one of the authors (along with David Green and Benjamin Sand) of a new paper called “The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks“: Read More »
A working paper (abstract; PDF) from economists Michael Baker and Kevin Milligan advances another possible explanation for the lagging academic performance of boys — preschool boys, at least. Here’s the abstract:
We study differences in the time parents spend with boys and girls at preschool ages in Canada, the UK and the US. We refine previous evidence that fathers commit more time to boys, showing this greater commitment emerges with age and is not present for very young children. We next examine differences in specific parental teaching activities such as reading and the use of number and letters. We find the parents commit more of this time to girls, starting at ages as young as 9 months. We explore possible explanations of this greater commitment to girls including explicit parental preference and boy-girl differences in costs of these time inputs. Finally, we offer evidence that these differences in time inputs are important: in each country the boy-girl difference in inputs can account for a non-trivial proportion of the boy-girl difference in preschool reading and math scores.
The authors’ results also indicate that the time differences are not due to parents’ gender preferences, but may be related to the opportunity cost of the mother’s time. “Given that time spent reading with children (primarily boys) increases after the introduction of a new child care subsidy, the parental time inputs we study may not be easily substituted by non-parental care,” they write. “Instead, this finding is consistent with a story in which boys are less rewarding to teach, and parents are more willing to persevere with boys once they are not responsible for their care throughout the day.”