DP4940 Vive la Révolution! Long Term Returns of 1968 to the Angry Students

Author(s): Eric Maurin, Sandra McNally
Publication Date: March 2005
Keyword(s): higher education, intergenerational, wages
JEL(s): I20
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=4940

The famous events of May 1968, starting with student riots, threw France into a state of turmoil. The period of ‘revolution’ coincided with the time in which important examinations are undertaken. As a result, normal examination procedures were abandoned and the pass-rate for various qualifications increased enormously in that one year. These events were particularly important for students at an early (and highly selective) phase of higher education. They are shown to have pursued further years of education because thresholds were lowered at critical stages (i.e. at entry to university and in the early years of university). These historic events provide a natural experiment to analyse the returns to years of higher education for the affected generation and to consider consequences for their children. Thus, we can contribute to the debate on two very controversial questions in the economics of education: What is the true causal relationship between educational attainment and its labour market value? Is there a causal relationship between the education of parents and that of their children? Much of the existing literature considers the effect of interventions altering an individual’s years of compulsory schooling on the margin rather than an intervention which occurs at a later stage. Our results are based on the latter and show a higher return for an additional year of education than would be suggested by many of the former studies. This may reflect higher returns from an additional year of university education rather than an additional year of compulsory education. Furthermore, the treatment group considered here is on the margin of the higher education system. This study suggests that expanding the university system to accommodate such people can yield very high private returns. There is also evidence of a strong causal relationship between obtaining an additional year of higher education and the educational outcomes of children. Hence our study suggests very positive effects of the ‘1968 events’ for affected cohorts and is of contemporary relevance given the current debate in many countries about widening access to higher education.