Discussion paper

DP3199 Cross Country Evidence on the Returns to Education: Patterns and Explanations

This Paper examines cross-country variations in the return to schooling for men and women and considers some of the stylised facts that have emerged from the extensive international literature on private returns to schooling. We examine the relationship across countries between these returns and a range of controls that can be grouped into three broad areas (i) supply factors, (ii) demand factors, and (iii) governmental policies and institutional factors. We find that the returns are decreasing in both labour force participation and, in some cases, in the average level of schooling in the population. In the multivariate analysis the only education variables that consistently matter are the proportions completing primary or third level education, which has negative and positive effects respectively. Standard measures of openness such as trade volume have positive effects, and we also find that measures of protection raise the return to schooling. Net inflows of foreign investment are associated with lower schooling returns - a result difficult to reconcile with the argument that capital is complementary to high skill labour and hence increases the skill premium.


Denny, K, C Harmon and R Lydon (eds) (2002), “DP3199 Cross Country Evidence on the Returns to Education: Patterns and Explanations”, CEPR Press Discussion Paper No. 3199. https://cepr.org/publications/dp3199