VoxEU Column

Economic incentives help explain a longstanding puzzle in cognitive science

A longstanding puzzle in cognitive science is the secular rise in cognitive skill across generations. Cognitive scientists emphasise explanations such as improvements in health and nutrition. This column describes research using an economic model and population administrative data from Sweden to argue that this ‘Flynn effect’ may originate in part from changes in economic incentives. Estimates suggest about a third of the rise in reasoning skill over the period studied is attributable to changes in labour market returns to different skills, with analytically intensive occupations having grown in relative importance.